Zarif adviser & former envoy to Syria known for his role in Iran hostage crisis dies of coronavirus

Hossein Sheikholeslam, adviser to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, has died of coronavirus, becoming the third government figure to perish in the epidemic which has infected thousands in Iran.

Sheikholeslam, whose previous political posts have included ambassador to Syria and assistant to parliament speaker for international affairs, first rose to prominence in the country while still a student for his role in the US-Iran hostage crisis.

He died on Thursday in Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari Hospital.

The coronavirus epidemic has hit Iran hard. Some 23 lawmakers have tested positive for the illness, including the head of emergency medical services, and other high-profile deaths include a member of the council advising the Ayatollah, a former ambassador, and a newly-elected member of parliament. Schools and universities have been closed until March 20 as of Thursday, and Parliament suspended its session at the end of last month “until further notice.”

Some 3,513 Iranians are said to be infected with coronavirus, while at least 108 have died. The disease had spread through “almost all” the provinces as of Wednesday, according to President Hassan Rouhani. Iran’s fight against the epidemic has been complicated by US sanctions restricting the import of much-needed specialty drugs.

IRGC commander Hossein Salami accused the US of engineering the coronavirus outbreak earlier this week, noting the virus had targeted Iran and China most intensely – both thorns in Washington’s side. Vowing that Tehran would “fight” the virus, Salami warned it “will return” to the US. It’s not immediately clear how the epidemic, which first surfaced in Wuhan, China in December, took hold in Iran while leaving other countries closer to China relatively unscathed.