Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls US President Donald Trump a ‘clown’

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Iran’s supreme leader has called US President Donald Trump a “clown” who only pretends to support the Iranian people and will “push a poisonous dagger” into their backs.

Key points:

• Iran’s supreme leader says air strikes against US “shows hand of God”

• Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the “real punishment” will be forcing US out of Middle East

• He says Iran will not negotiate with the US

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was speaking at his first Friday sermon in Tehran in eight years, said the funerals for Iran’s top general Qassam Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike earlier this month, showed that the Iranian people supported the Islamic Republic despite its recent trials.

He said the “cowardly” killing of General Soleimani had taken out the most effective commander in the battle against the Islamic State group and that the killing showed Washington’s “terrorist nature”.

PHOTO Qassem Soleimani, seen here in 2018, was killed by the US on January 3.

AP: OFFICE OF THE IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER, FILE

In response to the killing, Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles targeting US troops in Iraq, without causing serious injuries.

“The fact that Iran has the power to give such a slap to a world power shows the hand of God,” Mr Khamenei said, in a reference to the strikes.

In part of the sermon delivered in Arabic, he said the “real punishment” would be in forcing the US to withdraw from the Middle East.

“Resistance must continue until the region is completely freed from the enemy’s tyranny,” he said.

‘Bitter accident’

As Iran’s Revolutionary Guard braced for an American counterattack that never came, it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian jetliner shortly after it took off from Tehran’s international airport, killing all 176 passengers on board, mostly Iranians.

Authorities tried to conceal their role in the tragedy for three days, initially blaming the crash on a technical problem.

But in a televised speech on Tuesday Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in the downing of the Ukrainian plane was an “unforgivable error” and Iran will punish all those responsible, adding that the “tragic event” would be investigated thoroughly.

Their admission of responsibility triggered days of street protests, which security forces dispersed with live ammunition and tear gas.

PHOTO All 176 passengers on board the Ukrainian plane died in the incident.

AP: EBRAHIM NOROOZI

Mr Khamenei called the shootdown of the plane a “bitter accident” that saddened Iran as much as it made its enemies happy. He said Iran’s enemies had seized on the crash to question the Islamic Republic, the Revolutionary Guard and the armed forces.

He also lashed out at Western countries, saying they are too weak to “bring Iranians to their knees.”

He said Britain, France and Germany, which this week triggered a dispute mechanism to try and bring Iran back into compliance with the unraveling 2015 nuclear agreement, were “contemptible” governments and “servants” of the US.

“These European countries cannot be trusted. Even their negotiations with Iran are full of deceit,” Mr Khamenei said.

He said Iran was willing to negotiate, but not with the United States.

Mr Khamenei has held the country’s top office since 1989 and has the final say on all major decisions. The 80-year-old leader openly wept at the funeral of General Soleimani and vowed “harsh retaliation” against the US.

Thousands of people attended the Friday prayers, occasionally interrupting his speech by chanting “God is greatest” and “Death to America”.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have steadily escalated since Mr Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which had imposed restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

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The US has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests.

Mr Trump has openly encouraged the protesters — even tweeting in Farsi — hoping that the protests and the sanctions will bring about fundamental change in a longtime adversary.

After Mr Soleimani was killed, Iran announced it would no longer be bound by the limitations in the nuclear agreement.

European countries who have been trying to salvage the deal responded earlier this week by invoking a dispute mechanism that could result in even more sanctions.

Mr Khamenei was always sceptical of the nuclear agreement, arguing that the US could not be trusted.

But he allowed President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, to conclude the agreement with US president Barack Obama. Since Mr Trump’s withdrawal, he has repeatedly said there can be no negotiations with the US.

Mr Khamenei last delivered a Friday sermon in February 2012, when he called Israel a “cancerous tumour” and vowed to support anyone confronting it.

He also warned against any US strikes on Iran over its nuclear program, saying the US would be damaged “10 times over.”