Khamenei says only a strong Iran can avoid ‘oppression’

Iran is struggling under international sanctions imposed over its controversial nuclear drive

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Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday that only a strong nation could avoid being oppressed by foreign powers, as he called for economic and cultural independence.

“A nation that is not strong will be oppressed,” Khamenei, the country’s top decision-maker, said Friday in the northeastern city of Mashhad in an address in honor of the Persian New Year.

“The extortionists in the world will blackmail a weak nation, insult it, attack it, and trample it under their feet,” he said in remarks broadcast live on state television, in an apparent reference to the United States and other Western powers.

Iran is struggling under international sanctions imposed over its controversial nuclear drive, which Western powers suspect has covert military objectives despite Iranian denials.

Hopes for an economic recovery were rekindled after President Hassan Rouhani took office in August with a promise to repair relations with the world. In November he clinched an interim nuclear deal with world powers that brought modest sanctions relief.

But Khamenei, who has the final say on the nuclear issue, said Iran should not pin its hopes on “when the enemy will lift the sanctions,” alluding to nuclear talks with world powers aimed at reaching an ambitious final accord by July 20.

The so-called P5+1 - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany - want Iran to reduce the scope of its atomic activities to the extent that it would be extremely difficult to develop nuclear weapons.

In return, they would lift sanctions that have stoked double-digit inflation and high unemployment, and which have more than halved the country’s vital oil exports.

Khamenei, who has backed the nuclear talks but expressed skepticism over Western intentions, called for greater economic self-reliance through boosting productivity and pursuing a buy-Iran campaign under the title “economy of resistance.”

Khamenei added that culture is “even more important than the economy.”

“It is the air you breathe. If it is clean it has one effect, and another if it is dirty,” said Khamenei, who has long warned of a so-called soft war by the West against Iran’s Islamic ideals and values.

“The focus of the enemy is on the culture more than anything else,” Khamenei said.