Iran’s Supreme Leader Rebukes U.S. in Rare Friday Sermon

Iran’s Supreme Leader Rebukes U.S. in Rare Friday Sermon

Iran’s supreme leader struck a defiant tone in a rare public sermon on Friday, calling the United States an “arrogant power” and telling tens of thousands of chanting worshipers that God’s backing had allowed his country to “slap the face” of the United States.

In his first such address in eight years, the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sought to rally his supporters after weeks of turbulence in Iran and the wider Middle East, marked by fears of a war between Iran and the United States and street protests in Iran over the accidental downing of a civilian jetliner.

Pausing occasionally while his audience chanted, Mr. Khamenei referred to the United States’ killing of Iran’s most powerful security official, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and to the retaliatory Iranian missile attack on military bases in Iraq that house United States troops.

“These two weeks were extraordinary and eventful. Bitter and sweet events. Lessons we learned. The Iranian people went through a lot,” he said. “We delivered a slap to U.S.’s image as a superpower.”

The event, choreographed to present an image of power and unity, skirted the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane on Jan. 8 by Iranian forces that killed all 176 people on board. A lone banner featuring an airplane hung between huge pictures of General Suleimani.

The downing of the jet — followed by three days of denials by Iranian officials — spurred a new wave of protests across the country that Iranian security forces have sought to quell.

Forgoing Tehran University, where Mr. Khamenei usually speaks, he appeared for communal Muslim prayers on Friday at Tehran’s Grand Mosalla, an indoor and outdoor complex used as a communal prayer center for Muslim holidays and as an arena for election campaigns.

Crowds estimated to be in the thousands streamed in several hours before his sermon began, including schoolchildren, government employees and worshipers from neighboring provinces who had been bused in from their local mosques.

The complex had been outfitted with political messages: American flags were spread on the floor in the entrances so that worshipers could tread on them. Uniformed soldiers handed out posters of General Suleimani and red headbands with “God is Great” written in Arabic.

Large banners inside featured the face of General Suleimani and other men who were killed alongside him in United States drone strikes, ordered by President Trump, near the Baghdad airport on Jan. 2. Other banners read, “Death to America.”

Mr. Khamenei, 80, Iran’s top political and religious official, delivers Friday sermons only at times of serious crisis that require his intervention. His last such sermon was in 2012, during the Arab Spring uprisings in the region. He also spoke in 2009, during widespread protests in Iran contesting the results of a presidential election that became known as the Green Movement.

In both instances, Mr. Khamenei’s reinforced the government’s hard line by ordering people off the streets.


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