TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday that negotiating with the United States would not put an end to the “troubles” that have rocked the Islamic Republic over the past two months and vowed to punish demonstrators.
Iran has seen weeks of demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. She had been arrested for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Government officials have blamed the “riots” on “foreign enemies” in the West whom they accuse of inciting law-breaking.
“Some tell us in newspapers or on the internet that to put an end to the troubles that started a few weeks ago, all that’s needed is to resolve your problem with America and listen to the voice of the nation,” Khamenei said.
“Negotiating will not resolve anything,” he said, in comments broadcast on state television.
“Our problem with America can only be resolved by letting that country hold us to ransom.”
Khamenei said that in order to put an end to hostilities, the US wants Iran to abandon its nuclear program, change its constitution, restrict its influence to inside its borders, and close its defense industries.
“No Iranian can accept such conditions,” he said.
Khamenei also pointed to “the enormous voice of the nation that rang out” earlier this month during pro-government demonstrations and for the funeral of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, whom the US assassinated in a 2020 drone strike in Baghdad.
“This immense crowd was the voice of the Iranian nation,” he said.
Khamenei made the comments to paramilitaries who visited him as part of celebrations for Basij week.
The Basij is a volunteer militia recruited under the auspices of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,
“The problem is not a few rioters in the street, even if each rioter, each terrorist, must be punished,” Khamenei told the large assembly.
“The battlefield is much broader. The main enemy is the global arrogance,” he added, using Iran’s catch-all term for the United States and allies including Israel.
Extolling the military and social virtues of the Basij over the decades, Khamenei said the forces “sacrificed themselves in order to save people from a bunch of rioters and mercenaries,” referring to the recent country-wide unrest. “They sacrificed themselves in order to confront oppression.”
Protests continued Saturday at some universities in the capital Tehran and other cities, according to social media. Because of a severe country-wide crackdown by Iranian security forces, demonstrations have become more scattered. Protesters have also called for commercial strikes.
Khamenei’s comments came a day after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with a group of Basij members and praised their efforts to maintain security, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Iran’s ferocious crackdown on dissent has drawn criticism, with at least 448 people killed and more than 18,000 arrested in the protests and the violent security force response that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations. Iran has not offered a death toll or a number of those arrested.