'All they have to do is ask' — Trump says he's willing to help Iran battle coronavirus

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President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York.

President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is ready to help Iran deal with its increasingly deadly outbreak of coronavirus if the country he has bitterly criticized and sanctioned asks for assistance.

"If we can help the Iranians with this problem, we are certainly willing to do so.... All they have to do is ask,” Trump told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington on February 29.

“We will have great professionals over there," he added, referring to Iran, which has become the hot spot for the disease in the Middle East.

The United States, which has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said it had formally told Tehran of its willingness to assist in the crisis. The was message sent via Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

An Iranian Health Ministry spokesman on February 29 said nine people died from the COVID-19 virus over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of reported deaths to 43 amid 593 confirmed infections.

Many critics and outside experts have expressed concerns that Tehran is severely underreporting the magnitude of the crisis in the country, allegations the government has vehemently denied.

The virus has hit 61 countries, with China -- where the outbreak began -- the hardest hit but with numbers rising elsewhere.

The virus has killed 2,870 people and infected 79,24 others in mainland China.

Worldwide it has infected more than 86,000 people and killed more than 100. The strongest clusters of the disease outside of China are in Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.

Several top Iranian officials have also contracted the virus, including Masoumeh Ebtekar, the vice president for women and family affairs, a deputy health minister, and five lawmakers.

Iran has been linked to most of the over 200 confirmed cases of the virus now spread across the region, and many countries in and outside the Caucasus, Middle East, and Central Asia have imposed restrictions on travel to and from Iran in an effort to curtail the disease's spread.

On March 1, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in neighboring Armenia reported the small country’s first coronavirus case, that of a 29-year-old man who recently returned with his wife from Iran. 

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, AFP, and AP

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