Iran supreme leader criticizes politicians amid US tensions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader publicly chastised the country’s moderate president and foreign minister Wednesday, saying he disagreed with the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal they had negotiated with world powers.

The extraordinary comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the first time he’s criticized both politicians by name, came amid tensions with the United States a year after Washington’s withdrawal from the accord.

Khamenei has final say on all matters of state, and his blaming the deal’s unraveling limits the influence of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — relative moderates within Iran’s Shiite theocracy who had struck the deal.

It also shows the growing power of hard-liners.

The White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.

Since that development, Iran has announced it will back away from the atomic accord. The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged off its coast, and Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have launched drone attacks into Saudi Arabia.

Both Washington and Tehran have said they want to ease heightened tensions in the region in recent days. But many fear a miscalculation between the two countries, who have a 40-year history of mistrust, could escalate the situation.

Khamenei made the comments before hard-line students gathered for a Ramadan lecture. For years, hard-liners have criticized the accord for giving too much away to the West.

Khamenei had given his implicit stamp of approval on the deal, which when signed sparked spontaneous celebrations across Iran. The accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

But the deal has unraveled after Trump’s withdrawal, with the U.S. re-imposing old sanctions and coming up with even stricter new ones.

“To some extent, I did not believe in the way that the nuclear deal was implemented,” Khamenei said, according to his official website. “Many times I reminded both the president and the foreign minister.”

Khamenei has previously warned the West, especially the U.S., wasn’t trustworthy. But he hasn’t named the country’s top elected politician and his top diplomat before Wednesday night. He’s previously said the two had done the best they could.

Even before Trump became president and later withdrew from the deal, there were concerns in Washington that the supreme leader might turn on the agreement if the envisioned sanctions relief fell short of what Tehran expected. For that reason, the Obama administration dispatched senior officials to Europe, Asia and elsewhere to explain to foreign governments and countries what was permitted.

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