Iran’s supreme leader vowed Wednesday to resist new U.S. sanctions and again rejected any negotiations with Washington as the country’s atomic energy agency said it would accelerate its uranium enrichment program Thursday, breaching limits under a 2015 nuclear deal.
“Pressures by cruel enemies do not affect Iranians,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told judicial officials Wednesday, according to the supreme leader’s website. Calling the United States “the world’s most vicious regime,” he said that “Iranians have been wronged by oppressive sanctions but not weakened and will remain powerful.” He said the nation “won’t give up” and asserted that the Trump administration’s calls for negotiations reflected its failure to achieve its goals through pressure.
“They said, ‘Negotiate with us in order to progress.’ Yes! We do progress but without you,” Khamenei said. “Negotiations are their way of deceiving” Iran to get what Washington wants, he added. “If you surrender to them, you’re done!”
The remarks were another rebuff to President Trump, who expressed a desire Wednesday to avoid a military confrontation with Iran but also warned that if war did break out, “it wouldn’t last very long.”
“I’m not talking boots on the ground,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network. “I’m not talking we’re going to send a million soldiers. I’m just saying if something would happen, it wouldn’t last very long.”
Trump also pointed to his decision last week to call off a military strike after Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
“I’ve been very nice to them,” he said. “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 your decision, too. They’re human beings. They’re people. I didn’t want to kill 150 people.”
U.S. officials and national security experts have warned that an administration can never be sure that a military action will not rapidly expand into a new war.
While military analysts assess that the United States would defeat Iran in an all-out clash, Tehran possesses ballistic and cruise missiles, air defenses, and proxy forces that could kill U.S. troops.
Jim Stavridis, a retired admiral, said Iran also has “exceptionally strong” capabilities to conduct asymmetric warfare, in which a belligerent in a conflict stands up to an opponent with greater abilities.
“Cyber, swarm small-boat tactics, diesel submarines, special forces and surface-to-surface cruise missiles are all high-level assets,” Stavridis recently told The Washington Post. “They are also very experienced at employing them in the demanding environment of the Middle East. They would pose a formidable challenge to U.S. forces, although we would ultimately prevail in any confrontation, of course.”
Trump last year pulled out of a nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. He has moved since then to reimpose crippling sanctions on Tehran as punishment for its ballistic missile program and intervention in Middle East conflicts, which were not part of the nuclear accord.
The latest round of sanctions, targeting the supreme leader and other top officials, was announced Monday following attacks on oil and petrochemical tankers that the United States has blamed on Iran, as well as the drone incident.
Iran called the additional sanctions “outrageous and idiotic,” prompting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to retort in a television interview Wednesday: “That must mean they are working if they are this upset.”
In response to the increased U.S. pressure, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said it would speed up its enrichment of uranium after a deadline Thursday for European countries to take action to preserve the nuclear deal.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the organization, indicated that at the end of Thursday’s deadline, Iran would exceed a limit of 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium that the country is allowed to possess under the nuclear agreement. That stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent is suitable for use as fuel in nuclear power plants but far short of the weapons-grade level of more than 90 percent needed for fissile material in a nuclear bomb.
In addition, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said Iran would take unspecified new steps on July 7 to reduce its commitments under the nuclear deal, Iranian news media reported.
John Wagner and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.