Khamenei: Iran Will Not ‘Give In and Retreat’ from ‘Cruel’ U.S. Sanctions and ‘Insults’

The Associated Press
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest offer of negotiations on Wednesday, accusing Trump of attempting to bully and deceive the Islamic Republic.

“The most vicious officials of the [U.S.] government accuse Iran and insult it. The Iranian nation will not give in and retreat in the face of such insults,” Khamenei said.

“Negotiations are a deception for what they want. A weapon is in your hands and they don’t dare come close. They say drop the weapon so I can do whatever I want with you. This is negotiation,” he continued.

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday imposing new sanctions on Iran and on Supreme Leader Khamenei personally. He cited Iran’s attacks on oil tankers and a U.S. drone as reasons for the new punitive actions and said Khamenei should be held “responsible for the hostile conduct of his regime.”

Trump said sanctions pressure would be applied until Iran “abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, increased enrichment of uranium, development of ballistic missiles, engagement in and support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts, and belligerent acts directed against the United States and its allies.”

Trump added that sanctions could be lifted “quickly,” even “tomorrow,” if Iran returns to the negotiating table.

“I look forward to discussing whatever I have to discuss with anybody that wants to speak,” he said, prompting Khamenei’s tirade on Wednesday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani fired a volley in the war of words on Tuesday by denouncing the White House as “mentally retarded” for sanctioning Khamenei, which makes the Iranians a bit hypocritical for complaining about “insults.”

Rouhani described Khamenei as a humble cleric living a monastic existence with only a hoseyniyyeh (a place where prayers can be held) and a “simple house” to his name, which would make the notion of targeting him with sanctions “outrageous and idiotic.” 

In truth, Khamenei salted away a fortune worth billions of dollars as Iran’s economy crumbled. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo estimated in October 2018 that Khamenei’s assets are worth about $95 billion, a trove of “untaxed and ill-gotten wealth” kept in an “off-the-books hedge fund called the Setad.” Pompeo compared Khamenei’s greed to “the kind of plundering characteristic of Third World strongmen.”

An independent Reuters investigation in 2013 described Khamenei’s Setad organization as a “business juggernaut worth tens of billions of dollars,” much of that wealth accumulated by seizing the assets of impoverished Iranians, especially members of minority religions. 

Reuters noted that Khamenei does not use this fortune for lavish personal comforts, which would be a very bad look for a Supreme Leader following in the footsteps of the revolutionary Ayatollah Khomenei. Instead, money is a source of power for the theocracy.

“The revenue stream generated by Setad helps explain why Khamenei has not only held on for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than even his revered predecessor. Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran’s messy factional infighting,” Reuters explained.

Trump responded to Rouhani’s “ignorant and insulting statement” through his favored medium of Twitter, warning the Iranians they will face “great and overwhelming force” and even partial “obliteration” if they launch further attacks:

In a telephone interview on Wednesday morning, Maria Bartiromo of Fox News asked President Trump if America is likely to go to war with Iran.

“Well, I hope we don’t, but we’re in a very strong position if something should happen, we’re in a very strong position,” Trump replied.

“It wouldn’t last very long, I can tell you that. It would not last very long. And I’m not talking boots on the ground. I’m not talking we’re going to send a million soldiers. I’m just saying if something would happen, wouldn’t last very long,” he added.

Trump insisted he has been “very nice” to the Iranians, citing his decision to cancel a military response to the Iranian attack on a U.S. drone last week.

“They shot down our drone, I decided not to kill a lot of Iranians. I know a lot of Iranians. I like Iranians so much. And that plays into the decision, too. They’re human beings. They’re people. I didn’t want to kill 150 people when they shot down an unmanned drone, so I didn’t do that,” he said.

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