Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that Tehran will continue “resisting” US economic and political pressure, amid heightened tensions in the Gulf region.
Khamenei addressed a crowd in Tehran on Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic.
Without mentioning the United States by name the Iranian leader said his country’s defiance is its only option.
“Standing and resisting the enemy’s excessive demands and bullying is the only way to stop him,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.
Tensions between Iran and the US have soared in the past month, as the US sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over an unexplained “threat” from Iran.
The US has also blamed Iran, without providing evidence, for “attacks” that damaged four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month.
The escalation came a year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a deal between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
Trump has criticised the agreement, reached by his predecessor Barack Obama in 2015, as weak for not addressing Iran’s ballistic missile programme or its role in regional conflicts and called on Iran to enter negotiations in order to reach a new deal.
The president said last week that Iran “has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership. We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”
Reacting to those comments, Khamenei said: “The US president recently said Iran can achieve development with its current leaders. That means they do not seek regime change … But this political trick will not deceive Iranian officials and the Iranian nation.”
“In the missile programme, they know we have reached a point of deterrence and stability. They want to deprive us from it, but they will never succeed,” he said.
“Resistance has a cost, but the cost of surrendering to the enemy is higher,” he added.
Khamenei said US sanctions have created hardship for Iranians and called on the government to make improving economic conditions its top priority.
President Hassan Rouhani, who has taken a softer stance, suggested last week that Iran might be willing to hold talks if the US showed it respect and lifted sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that the US was prepared to engage with Iran without pre-conditions about its nuclear programme. Iran dismissed the offer as “wordplay”.
In his speech, Khamenei also criticised Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, for taking a stance against Iran.
Saudi Arabia recently held a series of summits with Muslim countries and accused Iran’s behaviour of threatening regional stability and security. Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said Muslim nations must confront recent attacks blamed on Iran with “all means of force and firmness.”
Iran rejected the accusation.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds over many regional issues, including the wars in Syria and Yemen, where they support opposite sides.
Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran after angry protesters in January 2016 attacked its embassy in Tehran and its consulate in the northeast city of Mashhad over the execution of top opposition scholar Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.