Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday dismissed a much-hyped new trade mechanism launched by European countries to bypass renewed U.S. sanctions as a “bitter joke” driven by “suit-wearing savages” disguised as E.U. leaders.
“This financial channel they recently set up resembles a joke, a bitter joke,” Khamenei told a thousands-strong congregation in a televised address at a shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where he speaks every year to mark the Iranian New Year.
The European Union set up a payment system driven by Britain, France and Germany last September to allow oil companies and businesses to continue trading with Iran in a bid to evade sanctions after the U.S. withdrew from an Obama-era nuclear agreement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif welcomed the news at the time as a “long overdue first step.”
“We remain ready for constructive engagement with Europe on equal footing & with mutual respect,” he said in a tweet.
Since then, Iran has become increasingly frustrated that Europe has not followed through with major trade deals and payments to the isolated Islamic kingdom. Khamenei said he could not be more disillusioned with European leaders:
The difference between what they are obligated to do and what they are proposing is as far as the earth is from the sky. We should completely forego [any hope] of help or cooperation from Westerners in strengthening our economy, we shouldn’t wait for them.
Once again the Europeans have stabbed us in the back, they have betrayed us. They wear suits, they put on ties and eau de cologne and carry Samsonite briefcases, but they are savages.
“What I am saying does not mean [Iran] should cut Western ties, not at all… there is no problem in having relations with them, but trusting them is a mistake, don’t trust them,” he concluded.
Earlier on Thursday, Khamenei called the economic difficulties of Iranians the most urgent problem facing the country.
“Specially in recent months the difficulties for people’s livelihoods have increased,” Khamenei said in a prerecorded message to mark the March 21 start of the New Year.
“The economy is the country’s urgent problem, it’s the country’s [most] serious and primary problem,” he said, pointing to the rial’s devaluation, decline in purchasing power and falling production.
AFP contributed to this report
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