Tehran reacted ferociously on Wednesday to US President Donald Trump’s criticism of Iran in his annual State of the Union speech, with a top general saying US troops must leave Syria and the foreign minister charging that Washington supports “dictators, butchers and extremists” in the Middle East.
“Whether they want to or not, the Americans must leave Syria,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to the Reuters news agency citing Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
“Now 90 percent of Syrian soil is under the control of the government and the rest will soon be freed by the Syrian army,” he added during a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Tehran.
Trump last month claimed the Islamic State terror group had been defeated in Syria and said all US troops were “coming back now.”
The US president had long questioned America’s multiple and seemingly interminable wars, but his withdrawal order came as a shock to Washington, upending years of doctrine in Syria.
Despite Trump’s decision, the US still has 2,000 or so troops in Syria and only non-essential gear has been pulled.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also slammed the US on Wednesday, tweeting that its “hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers & extremists, who’ve only brought ruin to our region.”
However, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country would be ready to establish “friendly relations” with the United States if it apologized for past wrongs.
“Our slogan is friendly relations with the whole world,” he said.
That would even include “America, if it repents… and apologizes for its previous interferences in Iran, and is prepared to accept the greatness and dignity of the nation of Iran and the great Islamic Revolution,” he said.
“We are still ready to accept America’s… repentance despite the fact that for years it has done injustice to us,” he told foreign diplomats in Tehran during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
Earlier Wednesday, Zarif pushed back after Trump appeared to link Iran to the deadly attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue last year by an American anti-Semite.
Zarif tweeted that “Iranians — including our Jewish compatriots — are commemorating 40 yrs of progress despite US pressure, just as @realDonaldTrump again makes accusations against us.”
Iranians—including our Jewish compatriots—are commemorating 40 yrs of progress despite US pressure, just as @realDonaldTrump again makes accusations against us @ #SOTU2019. US hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers & extremists, who've only brought ruin to our region
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 6, 2019
In his State of the Union address, Trump contextualized his Iran policy by castigating the regime for its anti-Semitism.
Iran, he said, “chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism or those who spread its venomous creed.”
The need to take a strong stance against Tehran, the president implied, was evident in the attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, in which 11 were killed — believed to be deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in American history.
“Just months ago, 11 Jewish Americans were viciously murdered in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Trump said, as he introduced SWAT officer Timothy Matson, who responded to the scene, and Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor who also survived the attack.
Trump only briefly mentioned his decision to pull US troops out of Syria, a policy decision to which Israel was deeply opposed.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach.” Trump said. “Great nations do not fight endless war. When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.”
He continued: “Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”