Ayatollah Khamenei tells Iranians not to wait for Western sanctions to be lifted but work to build a stronger economy to “reduce vulnerability”.
Iran’s supreme leader ushers in 1393, the year of ‘economy and culture’
TEHRAN // Iran’s supreme leader said on Friday that his nation can best counter Western sanctions by strengthening its economy and rallied Iranians to exert “extraordinary efforts” to take their country forward.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks came in his annual speech for the Persian New Year, Nowruz. Friday, the first day of spring, marks the beginning of the year 1393 on the Persian calendar.
Ayatollah Khamenei spoke in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran, and dedicated 1393 as the year of “economy and culture”. Iranians, he said, should not wait for the sanctions to be lifted but work to build a stronger economy to “reduce vulnerability”.
Iran has been hit hard by the international sanctions that were imposed over its controversial nuclear programme, which the West fears masks efforts to acquire nuclear arms. Tehran denies it is trying to make nuclear weapons but has acknowledged the devastating effect the sanctions have had on its oil and financial sectors.
An interim nuclear deal reached in November with six countries has eased some sanctions, but the core remains in place – including measures targeting oil exports, the pillar of Iran’s economy.
Iran and the countries – the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany – are now working on a comprehensive agreement envisaging long-term limits on the nuclear programmes in exchange for an end to the sanctions.
Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, has called the sanctions “a full-fledged economic war” on his country and last month ordered the government to create an “economy of resistance” to counter the measures.
The project involves efforts to diversify Iran’s exports, reduce dependence on sales of raw materials and promote knowledge-based high-tech industries.
“If a nation is not strong, the world’s extortionists will extort from it, insult it and if they can, they will trample on it,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in his speech. “If a nation doesn’t become strong, it will be bullied by others.”
Ayatollah Khamenei said the priority is for Iranians to make their economy immune to outside pressures.
“There is need for extraordinary efforts to bring the country’s economy into such a state that decision by others elsewhere in the world can’t influence it.
“If we have a determined will and join hands, we can help our economy prosper,” he said, urging Iranians to buy domestic products.
Waiting for “the enemy” to lift the sanctions is a road “to hell”, he stressed – and Iranians need to “look to what we can do ourselves”.
Ayatollah Khamenei has backed Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who took office last August, and his efforts to stabilise the national currency and halt inflation.
But Mr Rouhani’s government has a long way to go to deliver on promises of economic growth. As of the New Year, the government is to gradually phase out energy and food subsidies.
Ayatollah Khamenei also attacked the West’s “red lines” on freedom of expression in his New Year speech as he cast doubt on the Holocaust.
In Europe, “no one dares to speak of the Holocaust, the crux of which is not clear if it is true, or if it were, how it was”.
He has repeatedly called Nazi Germany’s killing of six million Jews a “myth” and said the historical record has been distorted.
Mr Rouhani, a self-declared moderate, has adopted a softer line, going so far as to condemn “the massacre of the Jews by the Nazis”.
Ayatollah Khamenei on Friday appeared to draw parallels between “red lines” in the West over discussion of the Holocaust and Iran’s own policies regarding freedom of expression.
“Expressing opinion about the Holocaust, or casting doubt on it, is one of the greatest sins in the West. They prevent this, arrest the doubters, try them while claiming to be a free country.
“They passionately defend their red lines ... how do they expect us to overlook our red lines that are based on our revolutionary and religious beliefs.”
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse