TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader said President Donald Trump is a “clown” who only pretends to support the Iranian people but will “push a poisonous dagger” into their backs, as he struck a defiant tone in his first Friday sermon in Tehran in eight years.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the mass funerals for Iran’s top general, who was assassinated by the U.S in Baghdad earlier this month, show that the Iranian people support the Islamic Republic despite its recent trials. He said the “cowardly” killing of Soleimani had taken out the most effective commander in the battle against the Islamic State group.
In response, Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missile strikes targeting U.S. bases inside Iraq. Ayatollah Khamenei said the strike had dealt a “blow to America’s image” as a superpower.The missile attack was a “military blow in the first place, but more important it was a blow to America’s fearsome image”, the leader said.
In part of the Ayatollah sermon delivered in Arabic, he said the “real punishment” would be in forcing the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East.
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.
Ayatollah Khamenei called the shoot-down of the plane a “bitter accident” that saddened Iran as much as it made its enemies happy. He said it should not overshadow Soleimani’s “sacrifice” for the country.
He said Iran’s enemies had seized on the crash to question the Islamic Republic, the Revolutionary Guard and the armed forces.
Iran leader said the Quds Force, which supports resistance groups in the region including Hezbollah and Hamas, “should be considered a humanitarian organization… its members are fighters without borders.”
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 United States.
He said Iran was willing to negotiate, but not with the United States.
Hundreds of 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 President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with