Khamenei urges Iran to stand up to sanctions

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Iran began the Persian New Year on Wednesday with its most senior leader asking the people to stand up to piling Western economic sanctions and also warning that the pressure was unlikely to ease.

If Iranians show more “readiness” to face Western pressure, the next 12 months will be a “political and economic epoch” for the country, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a recorded message on state television.

The year will be filled with “development, activity and dexterity,” Khamenei vowed in the message aired shortly after Iranians celebrated the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, marking the transition of winter to spring.

But, he warned, “it does not mean that the enmity of enemies will subside,” alluding to Western opposition to Iran's nuclear program and harsh sanctions against the economy of the Islamic republic.

Western powers and Israel suspect Iran's atomic activities have military objectives, despite repeated denials.

Coupled with unilateral sanctions by the United States and the European Union, UN Security Council punitive measures have been implemented to all but coerce Iran into curbing its nuclear work.

Final decisions on the nuclear drive rest with Khamenei, and Iran has vowed to continue with its program of uranium enrichment.

On Wednesday, Khamenei said economic sanctions had failed to “cripple” Iran, while also noting an increase in pressure.

“It appeared that the enemy was toughening up against Iran” in the past 12 months, he said. “They said and insisted they wanted to cripple the Iranian nation with sanctions. But they failed.”

The ailing economy, which has long struggled with high inflation and unemployment, was further buffeted in 2012 by increasingly severe US and EU sanctions targeting its vital oil and financial sectors.

Iran's currency, the rial, has lost nearly two thirds of its value since late 2011.

“Economic pressure was exerted on the people and problems arose,” Khamenei said, while implicitly criticizing the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for its “negligence” in handling the economy.

However, Khamenei said that those problems had let Iran gain “dexterity” in battling the sanctions, and also claimed the nation was making progress despite these woes.

Six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- have engaged with Tehran to seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear stand-off.

Iran's next round of talks with the so-called group of P5+1 is scheduled for April 5 and 6 in the Kazakh city of Almaty.