On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, refused U.S. assistance to fight the new Coronavirus, citing a conspiracy theory.
The comments come as Iran faces crushing U.S. sanctions blocking the country from selling its crude oil and accessing international financial markets.
But while Iranian civilian officials in recent days have increasingly criticized those sanctions, 80-year-old Khamenei instead chose to traffic in the same conspiracy theory increasingly used by Chinese officials about the new virus to deflect blame for the pandemic.
“Possibly your (offered) medicine is a way to spread the virus more,” Khamenei said. “Or if you send therapists and doctors, maybe he wants to see the effect of the poison, since it is said that part of the virus is built for Iran.”
There is no scientific proof offered anywhere in the world to support Khamenei’s comments. However, it comes after Chinese government spokesman Lijian Zhao tweeted earlier this month that it “might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe(s) us an explanation!”
Lijian likewise offered no evidence to support his claim, which saw the U.S. State Department summon China’s ambassador to complain.
Wuhan is the Chinese city where the first cases of the disease were detected in December. In recent days, the Trump administration has increasingly referred to the virus as the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus, while the World Health Organization used the term COVID-19 to describe the illness the virus causes. Even a U.S. senator from Arkansas has trafficked in the unfounded conspiracy theory it was a man-made Chinese bioweapon.
Scientists have not yet determined exactly how the new Coronavirus first infected people. Evidence suggests it originated in bats, which infected another animal that spread it to people at a market in Wuhan. The now-shuttered Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market advertised dozens of species such as giant salamanders, baby crocodiles and raccoon dogs that were often referred to as wildlife, even when they were farmed.
An article published last week in the scientific journal Nature Medicine similarly said there is “strong evidence” the virus “is not the product of purposeful manipulation.”