Khamenei expresses support for Guards
January 18 2020 01:03 AM
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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday shows him greeting the crowd during prayers in the capital Tehran.

Reuters/Dubai

Iran’s supreme leader threw his support behind the elite Revolutionary Guards in a rare sermon yesterday after their belated admission that they had accidentally downed an airliner triggered days of protests on the streets.
In his first Friday prayers sermon in eight years, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also told worshippers chanting “Death to America” that the elite Guards could take their fight beyond Iran’s borders after the US killing of a top Iranian commander.
Washington said any threats would only isolate Iran further.
Khamenei’s address comes amid a deepening crisis for Iran as it grapples with unrest at home and rising pressure from abroad. Tension has steadily ratcheted higher since 2018, when the United States withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear pact with world powers and reimposed sanctions.
The standoff erupted into tit-for-tat military strikes this month, when Washington killed top commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike on Jan 3 and Iran launched missile strikes at US targets in Iraq on Jan 8.
In the tense aftermath, a Ukrainian airliner was shot down by mistake. But it took days for the Guards to admit.
“Our enemies ... were happy that they found an excuse to undermine the Guards, the armed forces and our system,” Khamenei said in his sermon, heaping praise on the Guards for protecting Iran and renewing a call for US troops to leave the region.
Khamenei said Soleimani’s work of projecting Iran’s military influence abroad would continue and said the Quds Force he commanded “protects oppressed nations across the region.”
He said Quds Force soldiers were “fighters without borders”.
The US Department of State’s special representative to Iran, Brian Hook, said in Washington that Iranian threats risked further isolating the country.
But Russia lent Iran some support over the airliner disaster, saying it had been shot down when Tehran was spooked by reports of advanced US stealth fighters in the area.
“I’d like to underline the edginess that always accompanies such situations,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Protests, led by students, erupted in Tehran and other cities for four days over the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, in which all 176 aboard were killed, mostly Iranians or dual nationals.
As the unrest picked up, US President Donald Trump sent tweets in Farsi and English supporting the protesters.
Khamenei said in his sermon: “These American clowns who lie and say they are with the Iranian people should see who the Iranian people are.”“The plane crash was a bitter tragedy that burned through our heart,” Khamenei said. “But some tried to use it as an excuse to overshadow the martyrdom of our great commander Soleimani.”
Stopping short of a direct apology for the plane disaster, he urged Iranians to unite and show solidarity by turning out in numbers for the February parliamentary election.
The funeral of Soleimani, long portrayed as a national hero in Iran, had brought huge numbers of Iranian mourners to the streets.
Online footage during demonstrations had shown protesters being beaten and recordings of gunshots. Iran’s police denied firing at protesters.
In reaction to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Tehran has gradually scaled back on commitments to the nuclear deal, including lifting limits on its uranium enrichment.
Britain, France and Germany, which have been trying to salvage the pact, have subsequently launched the deal’s dispute mechanism over Iran’s violations, starting a diplomatic process that could lead to reimposing UN sanctions.
“These European countries cannot be trusted. Even their negotiations with Iran are full of deceit,” Khamenei said.



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