Middle East

Iran’s Supreme Leader Vows Never to Capitulate to U.S. Sanctions

In his first public comments since President Trump aborted an imminent attack on Iran last week, its top leader on Wednesday ruled out any negotiations with Washington and said that only the threat of military force provides protection from American domination.

“Negotiation is an effort to deceive into doing what the U.S. desires,” said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the English translation on his official website.

“It is like you hold a weapon, so the other side does not dare come close,” the ayatollah said, and then the Americans order Iran to drop the weapon “so I can do whatever I want to you.”

“This is what they mean by negotiation,” he said. “If you accept their request, you will suffer the worst things, and if you don’t accept it, you will face the huff and puff and their hassles over human rights excuses.”

As the paramount decision maker in the Iranian political system, Mr. Khamenei’s assent is necessary for diplomatic talks or military action, and his comments on Wednesday were the clearest indication yet that he saw little utility in seeking a compromise with Washington to avoid further confrontation.

His allusion to holding a “weapon,” in particular, may have been a veiled reference to the American accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon to hold more powerful rivals at bay.

The Iranian government has asserted many times that it will never possess nuclear arms. But around the same time that Mr. Khamenei spoke, other Iranian officials were repeating that Iran expects by Thursday to have exceeded the amount of enriched uranium it is permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated with six big powers led by the United States.

Mr. Trump’s accusations that Iran covets a nuclear weapon are at the heart of the current standoff. Mr. Trump last year abandoned the agreement, faulting it for failing to permanently block potential Iranian nuclear ambitions or to restrict other Iranian military activity. He reimposed sanctions on Iran — a violation of the agreement — are inflicting severe pain on the Iranian economy.

Officials in Tehran over the last two months have begun to call the penalties “economic warfare.” The officials have also said that if they were not delivered some form of sanctions relief by July 7 — possibly through European governments, which are still seeking to save the 2015 agreement — Iran would suspend compliance with other parts of the nuclear deal.

Both Washington and Tehran, meanwhile, have engaged in an escalating exchange of insults and bombast.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Tuesday called the White House “mentally handicapped” and Mr. Trump warned on Twitter that any Iranian attack “on anything American” would subject parts of Iran to “obliteration.”

The United States has accused Iran of using naval mines to damage six tankers on a vital shipping route for Persian Gulf oil, and while denying those charges, Iran has boasted that it successfully shot down an American surveillance drone. The Iranians claim the drone trespassed their airspace, which the United States denies.

It was the shooting down of the drone that prompted Mr. Trump last Thursday to order a missile strike against Iran — only to call it off minutes beforehand. Then, on Monday, the administration added a new series of sanctions targeting Mr. Khamenei and key military subordinates, including some believed responsible for having downed the drone.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks on Wednesday were his first public statement since the announcement of those sanctions, and he denounced the United States as “the world’s most vicious regime.”

Iran “has been accused and insulted” and “wronged by oppressive sanctions,” Mr. Khamenei said, “but not weakened and will remain powerful.”

As recently as this week, Mr. Trump had held out the possibility of negotiations with “no preconditions” and said he was not looking for war.

But like Mr. Khamenei, Mr. Trump has also sometimes suggested that his adversary will listen only to the threat of military action.

“Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words ‘nice’ or ‘compassion,’ they never have,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday on Twitter. “Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world.”

Although Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran more than a year ago, Iran has until now continued to abide by the restrictions of the deal.

European governments who still hoped to preserve the deal had encouraged Iran to stick to its obligations while they tried to work out some way to sidestep the American sanctions. Iran may also have hoped to wait out Mr. Trump by keeping the deal intact long enough for a possible renewal by a new president.

But the European governments have struggled to find a way to work around the United States financial system in order to sustain trade with Iran. The Iranians have made it increasingly clear they have lost patience.

Iranian officials have said they expect on Thursday to breach a key limit in the 2015 deal that restricts the country’s stockpiles of low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds. Then they will take additional steps a week later, on July 7, that may even more clearly violate the deal.

Those steps could pose a difficult test for the Europeans.

Under the terms of a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution, 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal, any Iranian violation could trigger the “snap back” of multilateral economic penalties, further punishing the Iranian economy and escalating tensions.

At a meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday, several European diplomats continued to praise the 2015 deal, and Rosemary DiCarlo, the United Nations under secretary general for political affairs, warned with understatement that Iran’s steps to back away from its commitments under the deal “may not help preserve it.”

Joao Vale de Almeida, the European Union’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council that there was “no credible, peaceful alternative” to the 2015 deal.

But Jonathan Cohen, the acting American ambassador, reminded fellow delegates that resolution 2231 “provides a mechanism for the Council to address significant nonperformance by Iran of its nuclear commitments,” an apparent allusion to the snapback provision.

“Iran’s defiance of the Security Council, and its reckless behavior threatening peace and security globally, must not be downplayed in the name of preserving a deal that doesn’t fully cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Cohen said.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

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