Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responding to what he called “vicious” United States government officials, vowed never to give in to American sanctions and “insults,” his official website reported on Wednesday.
Ayatollah Khamenei is the paramount decision maker in Iran and his assent is necessary for any major agreement or military action. His comments were made days after the Trump administration imposed new sanctions that targeting him specifically.
The remarks were the latest barrage in an escalating exchange of insults and threats between the two countries. Last week, the United States pulled back at the last minute from a military strike in retaliation for the shooting down of an unmanned surveillance drone.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, reiterated that by Thursday, Iran would begin speeding up its enrichment of uranium, according to Iranian news agencies. Enrichment is the first step toward exceeding the caps on Iran’s stockpiles set in a 2015 agreement between Tehran and a group of six countries led by the United States.
The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the 2015 accord, and has begun a campaign of “maximum pressure,” seeking to use sanctions blocking oil sales to devastate Iran’s economy and force it to accept new restrictions on its military activities, especially on its potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Officials in Tehran have called the oil sanctions “economic warfare.” But the latest round of sanctions against Ayatollah Khamenei and other senior leaders were roundly mocked in Iran, with President Hassan Rouhani calling the White House “mentally handicapped.” In response, President Trump warned on Tuesday that any attack Iran might carry out “on anything American” would result in the “obliteration” of parts of Iran.
On Wednesday, Ayatollah Khamenei promised that “the Iranian nation will not give in and retreat in the face of such insults,” the website reported.
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 Iranian officials have dismissed the possibility that talks would occur with sanctions in place. And as the oil penalties have begun to bite over the past two months, Iran has rejected any restrictions on its military activities. Iranian officials have responded by threatening to restart their nuclear power program. Tehran says its purposes are peaceful, but American officials have accused Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
Iran had agreed to the 2015 deal to limit its development of nuclear technology in exchange for an end to a previous period of international economic sanctions. Even after the Trump administration withdrew from that agreement, Iran and the other signatories sought to keep it alive.
Iran has so far stayed within the limits of the agreement. But European governments struggled to find a way to sidestep the United States financial system in order to sustain trade, and Tehran set a deadline for the Europeans to take steps to help Iran’s economy.
But action against the Trump administration, could pose a difficult test for the Europeans.
Under the terms of the deal, any Iranian violation could trigger the “snap back” of multilateral economic penalties, further punishing the Iranian economy and escalating tensions.