Iran’s supreme leader on Friday said that protests at home over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner were unrepresentative of the Iranian people and accused the country’s enemies of using the tragedy for propaganda.
For the first time since 2012, leading the weekly prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the January 8 incident was a “bitter” tragedy but should not be allowed to overshadow the “sacrifice” of one of Iran’s most storied commanders, assassinated in a US drone strike.
His sermon came following a traumatic month in which Iran approached the brink of war with the United States and shot down the Ukrainian jet by mistake, killing all 176 people on board.
“The plane crash was a bitter accident, it burned through our heart,” Khamenei said in an address punctuated by cries of “Death to America” from the congregation.
“But some sought to … depict it in such a way as to neglect the great martyrdom and sacrifice” of Major General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations arm who was assassinated in Baghdad on January 3.
Khamenei said enemies of Iran had sought to use the disaster of the plane to weaken the Islamic republic.
“Our enemies were as happy about the plane crash as we were sad,” he said.
“The spokesmen of the vicious American government keep repeating that we stand with the people of Iran. You’re lying,” Khamenei said.
He also blasted Britain, France and Germany, which, amid US threats to impose tariffs on European cars, voted on Tuesday to trigger a conflict process in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
“It has been proven now, after about a year, that they are, in the true sense of the word, America’s lackeys,” he said.
President Donald Trump responded to his words by tweeting that Khamenei should listen intently.
“The so-called ‘Supreme Leader’ of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe,” Trump tweeted.
“Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering. He should be very careful with his words!”
The air tragedy started protests in Tehran and other cities, but they appeared smaller than nationwide demonstrations.