Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, led Friday prayers in Tehran for the first time in eight years and delivered a sermon in which he excoriated U.S. leaders as "clowns" and accused European countries of negotiating in bad faith over the foundering nuclear deal.
Khamenei also indicated Iran may retaliate more for the U.S. killing Iran's Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, saying its missile attack on U.S. assets in Iraq had been a blow to America's dignity and its status as a superpower.
The speech comes at a delicate time for the ayatollah. Iran's leaders are locked in a contentious dispute with the U.S., and they're also facing public criticism at home over their handling of an accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, which killed 176 people.
"The past two weeks were eventful and exceptional weeks," Khamenei said, according to a partial transcript on his website. Speaking to a large crowd of worshippers in Tehran, he added, "There were bitter and sweet events for the Iranian nation to take lessons from during these two weeks."
Taking aim at recently statements by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which they pledged their support for Iran's regular citizens, Khamenei said, "These American clowns lie in utter viciousness that they stand with the Iranian people."
Khamenei added, "They lie. If you are standing by the Iranian [people], it is only to stab them in the heart with your venomous daggers."
Despite the ayatollah's colorful language, NPR's Jane Arraf describes the overall speech as "perhaps a little bit less fiery than many would have expected." While the Iranian leader did criticize the U.S. and its allies, she adds, "He did not make specific threats."
The speech comes nearly two weeks after Khamenei openly wept during prayers for Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. The targeted killing of Iran's top general galvanized public outrage against the U.S. in Iran and led to Tehran retaliating for that strike – but sentiments in Iran then took another turn, after its military initially denied and then admitted to shooting down a civilian airliner. Angry public protests followed, including reports of live ammunition being used against demonstrators. It was against that backdrop that the plan for today's speech was announced.
In his Friday sermon, the ayatollah also addressed a recent maneuver that could reinstate U.N. sanctions on Iran: the complaint that foreign ministers of the U.K., France and Germany filed on Tuesday. By formally accusing Iran of not meeting its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that complaint triggers a dispute resolution process – and if that fails, U.N. sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo, will likely return.
"The threat of the French and German governments and the vicious British government to send Iran's case to the Security Council proved once again that they are the footmen of the US," Khamenei said.
After the three U.S. allies filed the complaint, Germany's defense minister said the Trump administration had threatened to punish them if they did not take the action, confirming a Washington Post report of a U.S. plan to impose 25% tariffs on European cars if its allies didn't act.
"This expression or threat, as you will, does exist," Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in response to a question about that report, according to Deutsche Welle.
When they filed that complaint, the diplomats sought to distance themselves from the Trump administration's Iran strategy, issuing a statement saying, "Our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran."
Russia and China, the two other signatories to the nuclear deal, did not join the French, British and German complaint.
Khamenei accused the European countries of having a deep history of acting in bad faith in the Middle East, and against Iran in particular.
"These three countries are the ones who helped Saddam as much as they could in his war against us," he said, referring to the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s.
"The German [government] provided Saddam with chemical weapons to target our cities and frontlines, and its effects are still with us. The French [government] provided Saddam with Super Étendards [helicopters] to attack our oil ships. The British [government] served Saddam in every way too. This is how they are."
Accusing the Western governments of being deceitful, Khamenei told his audience at Friday prayers, "The same people who appear at the negotiating table — the same so-called 'gentlemen' behind the table — are the same terrorists of the Baghdad airport. They just change clothes."