Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the United States on Friday of trying to stir anti-government protests by imposing sanctions that he said are aimed at bankrupting the country.
Iran's clerical rulers have tried to prevent a revival of anti-government unrest that have shaken the country in recent years and that began with protests over economic hardship but turned political, with demonstrators demanding top officials step down. Authorities have said street protests will be dealt with "decisively".
"Their (The U.S.) short-term goal was to make our people so fed up and tired that they would stand up against the (ruling) system," Khamenei said in a televised speech marking the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Adha.
"Their long-term aim is to bankrupt the country, the state, in other words to make the economy collapse."
In addition to the U.S. sanctions, Iran's economy has been hit by a fall in oil prices, as well as the coronavirus crisis: Iran has one of the highest death tolls in the Middle East from the pandemic.
Relations between Tehran and Washington have deteriorated since 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers under which Tehran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.
Khamenei called the United States Iran's "main enemy" and urged Iranians to resist U.S. pressure. He ruled out negotiations with Washington saying Trump would use talks for propaganda as he did with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
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"At the negotiating table, America wants us to abandon our nuclear industry altogether, reduce our defence capabilities and relinquish our regional influence," he said.
Since pulling out of the nuclear deal, Washington has reimposed sanctions that have sharply lowered Tehran's oil exports. It is pursuing a "maximum pressure" policy aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate a broader deal that further limits its nuclear work, ends its missile program and its support for proxy forces in a regional power struggle with U.S.-backed Gulf Arabs
Khamenei also said European states have failed to salvage the country's 2015 nuclear deal with major powers from which the United States has already withdrawn, "They have inflicted a blow on Iran's economy by hollow promises."