By Ladane Nasseri
Iran’s supreme leader conceded his country had been tested but insisted it would emerge stronger, in a speech that sought to counter both domestic critics and a hostile U.S. administration.
Anti-government protests this year over a struggling economy and then restrictive dress laws for women have highlighted the different visions for Iran’s future held by more moderate politicians and conservative hardliners. At the same time, containing Iran’s influence has become a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
The 1979 revolution “has undergone a test and Iranians have been able to safeguard its values,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in the northeastern city of Mashhad to mark the Persian new year. Iran’s enemies had sought to “overplay” its problems, he said.
Khamenei insisted young Iranians were committed to the ideals of the Islamic Republic. “If they don’t care more than the first generation, they don’t care any less either,” he said.
“It was probably Khamenei’s most defensive, and one of his most responsive, speeches in months,” said Afshin Shahi, a visiting fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. “Every point was primarily a response to a challenge or an issue that has weakened the Islamic Republic over the past” year whether internally or on the international front, he said.
Trump used the customary White House statement marking Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian, to depict Iranians as battling oppression, poverty and environmental disaster. And on Tuesday, in a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional archrival — Trump again hinted the U.S. will quit the international pact that removed most sanctions on Iran.
As the economy has struggled to attract foreign investment, Khamenei has returned to one of his favorite themes — an “economy of resistance” — calling on Iranians to show “support for Iranian goods.”
On Wednesday, he also pointed to Iran’s role in defeating Islamic State militants, and contrasted it to an American regional policy that he said had been unable to ensure security in the Middle East.
Khamenei didn’t directly address demands for greater social freedoms at home, instead choosing to praise the country’s youth and its “untapped talent.”
“They will build a much better country than what we have had in the previous generations,” he said.