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The risk of conflict between the US and Iran is still very real amid the coronavirus pandemic, Business Insider reported

Although the coronavirus hit Iran, the Trump administration continued to impose tough sanctions on the country as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign.

And President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened Iran with a military strike in the event of an American attack in the region. "Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Trump tweeted.

According to reports, intelligence suggested that Iranian proxy forces are plotting a conspiracy against the US. But it is unclear whether there is evidence of a more specific plan.

Iran’s top diplomat, Javad Zarif, answered Trump. "Unlike the US — which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates — Iran only acts in self-defense. Openly Iran starts no wars, but teaches lessons to those who do," Zarif added. 

This happened just a few weeks after the US attacked the militia supported by Iran in Iraq, after two American troops and a British soldier died in a rocket attack in early March.

Privately, Trump's chief advisers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were pushing Trump to strike directly at Iranian forces, the New York Times said in late March. Trump rejected such suggestions, arguing that an attack on Iran amid a pandemic would be inappropriate. In the meantime, Democratic leaders sent Trump a letter March 27, warning him of any military action against Iran without Congress approval.

Iran has been particularly affected by the coronavirus. According to the latest data from the Iranian health ministry, over 50,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the country, more than 3,000 people have died. For comparison: the US has over 230,000 reported coronavirus cases and over 5,700 people have died from it. 

Iran was in a difficult situation before the advent of coronavirus. After Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement, his administration imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, which harmed the Iranian economy.

The US administration claims that tough sanctions that blocked Iran’s main source of income (oil) will push Iran into sitting down and negotiating a more stringent version of the 2015 agreement. There is virtually no evidence to support this position, since sanctions have intensified Iran’s aggressive activities in the region and exacerbated tensions between Washington and Tehran.

In early January, on the orders of Trump, General Qasem Soleimani was killed, which put the United States and Iran on the brink of war. Although the two countries ultimately retreated from the wider conflict, hostilities did not stop and the strategy of “maximum pressure” of economic sanctions continued. The US even imposed new sanctions against Iran amid a coronavirus pandemic.

The Iranian government also blames US sanctions on the coronavirus situation and calls on Washington to lift them for humanitarian reasons. "We had always said the sanctions are unjust but coronavirus revealed this injustice to the world," Zarif said in a recent video message, referring to the sanctions as "economic terrorism."

There are now growing calls in the international community, and within the US, for the sanctions to be lifted. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet recently called on countries to ease sanctions on countries such as Iran.

"At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us," Bachelet said in late March. 

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender in 2020, also called on Trump to ease sanctions against Iran.

"Iran is struggling to contain one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. While the Iranian government has failed to respond effectively to this crisis, including lying and concealing the truth from its own people, and it continues to act provocatively in the region, the Iranian people are hurting desperately," Biden wrote in a post on Medium. "It is bad enough that the Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of a 'maximum pressure' strategy that has badly backfired, encouraging Iran to become even more aggressive and restart its nuclear program," Biden added. "It makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance. Whatever our profound differences with the Iranian government, we should support the Iranian people."

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