TEHRAN -- President Ebrahim Raisi said Monday Iran’s pivot to neighbors and regional countries helped import coronavirus vaccines and permanently join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The president also told a group of martyr families that overcoming many challenging tasks would be made possible by tapping domestic capabilities.
“Unfortunately, we witnessed that certain people had stopped importing vaccines or even tied joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the approval of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force), and even insisted on their position in official meetings,” he said.
Raisi said during the short span since he came to office, nothing special has happened to lead to an increase in the import of vaccines or SCO membership, except that “our neighboring and friendly countries have seen that we no longer focus only on the West and that relations with neighbors and regional countries has become a priority of Iran’s foreign policy”.
The SCO on Friday approved documents for Iran’s full membership at the Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance at its 21st summit in Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe.
Raisi has said the membership is a “diplomatic achievement,” calling on relevant Iranian bodies to embrace the new opportunity to link with Asia’s economic resources.
A vaccination center, a hospital, a pharmacy and finally a morgue. The first public visits by President Raisi have made clear his top priority — accelerating imports of COVID-19 vaccines into a country hard hit by the pandemic amid inhuman sanctions.
Since the 60-year-old cleric was inaugurated last month, replacing president Hassan Rouhani, there has been a huge rise in imports of vaccines and Raisi has led the push.
“When the president, like a commander, shows up in the frontline, then all officials realize that no excuses would be acceptable for any delay in importing vaccines,” said Muhammad Hassan Ghosian Moqaddam, a spokesman for the Iranian Red Crescent Society, which is the main conduit for vaccine imports. “If we told the previous government we could import 1m doses, the answer was ‘let’s look into it over the next week’. Now, the answer is ‘Why 1m? Why not 10m?’”
Rouhani instead focused on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, under which Iran curbed its nuclear output in return for the removal of sanctions. The deal fell apart after the then-U.S. president Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018.
In contrast, Raisi has so far refused to give any prominence to the nuclear talks in Vienna, which have been suspended since Iranian elections in June, focusing instead on vaccines. Last month, amid outrage on social media over the lack of jabs because of the former
administration’s laxity, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei urged authorities to “double efforts” and use “any possible way” to vaccinate people.
He [Raisi] has rightly prioritized vaccination as we cannot sit at the negotiating table while people feel so miserable,” the Financial Times quoted an unnamed reformist analyst in Tehran as saying.
First vice-president Muhammad Mokhber now convenes a committee on vaccination imports several times a week. “Before, the health ministry was alone, but now decisions are made in the vaccination committee and all obstacles are removed immediately in the same sessions,” said Muhammad Reza Shanehsaz, head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration. “Imports of vaccines have become number one priority for the government of Mr Raisi.”
The new measures mean Iran has managed to buy more than 30 million doses over the past month alone, according to Shanehsaz. This compares with 19 million in the preceding seven months. With 16.3 percent of people already fully vaccinated, up from 3.3 percent before Raisi took over, the government aims to have most of the 85million population jabbed by February.
The bulk of the vaccines are Sinopharm, with Oxford/AstraZeneca a distant second, followed by COVIran Barkat, the domestically produced shot. Permits have also been issued to private companies to import vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, Shanehsaz confirmed.
Daily deaths in Iran hit a record 709 on August 24 and the official death toll now stands at 117,182.