Speed Reads

foreign policy tensions

Iran and North Korea reacted very differently to U.S. offers to help battle coronavirus

The United States has extended overtures toward two countries, Iran and North Korea, with whom tensions remain high, offering to cooperate in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang and Tehran had very different responses.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday refused the United States' assistance to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has been particularly harsh in Iran where tough economic sanctions preventing the sale of crude oil and access to international financial markets remain in place.

In his speech, Khamenei not only rejected U.S. aid, but he also trumpeted a conspiracy theory first touted in China that the virus was a man-made U.S. government weapon. He said he doesn't know if the accusation is true, but wondered "who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication" when that medication might be "a way to spread the virus more," before suggesting that the real reason U.S. medical personnel might want to come to Iran is to "see the effect of the poison they have produced."

Meanwhile, North Korea seemed to appreciate the gesture a little more. Pyongyang said Sunday that President Trump sent another personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, this time reportedly expressing his willingness to cooperate with the country on "anti-epidemic" work, referring to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Kim Yo Jong, Kim's sister and policy aid, praised the letter as "good judgment and proper action" and said Trump was impressed with North Korea's ability to curb the threat of the virus. North Korea has not reported any COVID-19 cases, but health experts fear the secretive nation is covering up an outbreak. The White House confirmed Trump sent Kim a letter, but did not comment on its contents. Read more at The New York Times and The Associated Press.