Rouhani Says Iran Won’t Be ‘Bullied’ as Rallies Criticise Trump

  • Iranian president gives speech on anniversary of revolution
  • Comments come as U.S.-Iran relations sour under Donald Trump

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, at Azadi Square in Tehran, Iran on Feb. 10, 2017.

Photographer: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran isn’t seeking tensions but will stand up to any “bullying,” President Hassan Rouhani said as his nation marked the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution amid a souring of ties with the Trump administration.

“We will stand up to those who have their eyes on Iran,” Rouhani said in Tehran, days after the U.S. responded to an Iranian ballistic missile test with new sanctions. Iran “won’t give in to bullying and threats,” he said.

Relations between Iran and the U.S. -- which improved under Barack Obama and enabled the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers -- have deteriorated under President Donald Trump, who has warned that Iran is “playing with fire” and that “nothing is off the table” when his administration considers its approach to the country. During his approximately 45-minute address on Friday, Rouhani didn’t refer to Trump by name.

“Some newcomers have come to power in the U.S. and in the region,” Rouhani said. “They all should know they must only speak with the language of respect to Iran. This nation will give a determined response to threats.”

Iranian officials have said they won’t be intimidated by the Trump administration, which put Iran “on notice” following its missile test and sanctioned a list of entities it said were linked to its missile program. The U.S. is also weighing whether to list Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, a decision that would have economic, political and geopolitical implications because of the enormous might it wields.

Gulf Allies

Trump’s response to the missile test and his earlier executive order including Iran in a seven-nation immigration ban, now stalled by U.S. courts, have been cited by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and hardliners as evidence that the U.S. can’t be trusted. The U.S. leader has pledged to increase support for traditional American allies in the Gulf, many of whom oppose a greater Iranian role in the region.

Speaking on Tuesday, Khamenei said Trump was revealing the “real face” of the U.S. and that Iranians would respond to threats by taking part in this year’s annual rally.

Khamenei’s “remarks were heeded, as the crowds on this anniversary were significant,” said Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Centre for Science and Security Studies at London’s King’s College.

Crowds at the annual rally in Tehran brandished placards that read “Those who dream of America, may God awaken them” and “Thank you Trump for making it easier for us to show the real face of America.” A giant Iranian flag was carried by a portion of the crowd.

‘Smell of War’

“The more time goes by, tensions and conflicts increase, especially when you compare it to previous years,” said Mostafa Rezai, a 44-year-old driver at the rally in the capital. “This suits the West, that’s what they want. The smell of war is near.”

The anniversary parades mark the uprising when followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979. They are intended to demonstrate support for the clerical regime and its values, and each year tens of thousands of Iranians, including many state employees and their families, take part.

Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Khamenei, said in an interview with Al Jazeera published on Friday that Iran will maintain its missile program “at any cost.” Iran has no intention of changing its Middle East policies because of Trump, he said. Iranian officials say it can rely on no one for its defense and that’s why it needs a missile program.

In his rally speech, Rouhani defended the nuclear deal that lifted key sanctions against his nation last year. The 2015 deal ensured the nation’s “right” to a nuclear program while pursuing its economic revival, he said.

Khamenei offered conditional support for the nuclear diplomacy, helping to protect Rouhani from hardliners opposed to the talks. If Trump tries to unpick the nuclear deal as he vowed during campaigning, Rouhani can expect a renewed onslaught from critics sensing an opportunity to weaken him in the lead-up to presidential elections in May.

Rouhani’s rally speech, which also called for national unity and focused on the economic achievements of his administration, was part of his “bid for re-election,” said Esfandiary.

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