TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran was “very happy” over the looming departure from office of US counterpart Donald Trump, who led a campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic Republic.
US President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Trump at the ballot box in November, has signaled a willingness to return to diplomacy with Iran after four tense years under the outgoing president.
But Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also warned that the departure of Trump does not immediately mean better relations between the two nations.
“Some say you are overexcited by the advent of Mr. Biden. No, we are not, but we are very happy to see Trump leave,” he said in televised comments at a cabinet meeting.
“Thank God, these are his final days,” Rouhani added, calling Trump a “tyrant,” “the most unruly, lawless president” and a “terrorist and murderer.”
The electoral college confirmed Biden as the next US president on Monday even as the incumbent continues to refuse to accept defeat.
The formal handover of power will take place on January 20 when Biden is sworn in.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington soared during Trump’s presidency as his administration sought to bring Israel and the Gulf Arab states closer together with a hard line against Iran.
In 2018, Trump pulled Washington out of a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposed punishing unilateral sanctions.
This January, Trump ordered an airstrike near Baghdad airport that killed senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and drew retaliatory Iranian strikes targeting US troops in Iraq.
Trump “creates obstacles for us purchasing [COVID-19] vaccines, [that is] how much this person is bereft of all ethical and human principles,” Rouhani said.
Iran is the Middle Eastern country hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic with 52,670 deaths from more than 1.1 million cases, according to official figures.
Vaccines and other humanitarian goods are supposed to be exempt from US sanctions but in practice few if any banks are willing to risk processing Iranian transactions for fear of incurring heavy penalties in the US courts.
Since Biden’s victory, Rouhani’s government has repeatedly signaled its openness to the incoming US administration, although Khamenei has cautioned against hopes of an opening with the West.
Rouhani said the outcome of the US election showed the American people’s desire for a “law-abiding” president and called on the Biden administration to live up to the expectation.
“If it wants to be on the correct path, it’s there, and if it wants the wrong one, it’s also there,” he said.
Speaking later Wednesday, Khamenei said that US “enmities” towards Iran will not cease with the looming departure from office of Trump.
He reiterated his position that Iran should bolster itself to “nullify” sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, but should “not delay” in the event they can be lifted.
“You witnessed what Trump’s America and Obama’s America did to you,” he was quoted as saying on his official website.
“Enmities are not limited to Trump’s America and will not end just because he has left office,” Khamenei added, addressing the family of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a January US air strike in neighboring Iraq.
“Do not trust the enemy, this is my explicit advice.”
Khamenei underlined that if sanctions “can be lifted, we should not delay it for even an hour.”
But he warned: “Do not rely on [others’] promises to solve the people’s problems [and] do not forget enmities.
“I will support the country’s authorities on the condition that they remain true to the nation’s goals.”
Khamenei’s meeting with the slain general’s family was his first public engagement since an official close to his office moved to squash rumors about his health last week.
The remarks come as Iran approaches the first anniversary of the US drone strike that killed Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, an attack that nearly plunged Washington and Tehran into an open war after months of tensions. In recent weeks, a scientist who founded Iran’s military nuclear program two decades ago was gunned down in an attack in a rural area outside of Tehran that The Associated Press accessed for the first time Wednesday.
Khamenei spoke in Tehran at the Imam Khomeini Hosseinieh, or congregation hall, where he met with Soleimani’s family and top military leaders. They all sat some 5 meters (16 feet) away from the 81-year-old Khamenei, who wore a face mask due to the coronavirus pandemic still raging in Iran.
In response to Soleimani’s death, Tehran launched a ballistic missile attack that injured dozens of US troops in Iraq. That same night, it also mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner taking off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.
Hoping to pressure Europe, Iran’s parliament recently passed a bill calling on Tehran to increase its uranium enrichment to 20%, a short technical step from weapons-grade levels, and to throw out international inspectors. Rouhani’s government has opposed the bill, exposing a rift inside Iran’s civilian government that the supreme leader appeared to touch on in his speech Wednesday.
That bill came after the November 27 killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who headed Iran’s so-called AMAD project, which Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that “structured program” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report and the State Department agreed with it as recently as last year.
Israel, suspected of carrying out Fakhrizadeh’s slaying, insists Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
Fakhrizadeh was named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 as the director of Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons project. When Netanyahu revealed then that Israel had removed from a warehouse in Tehran a vast archive of Iran’s own material detailing its nuclear weapons program, he said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”
He was also an officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, designated by the US as a terrorist organization.
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago, in a bid to curtail Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program. It has made no official comment on the matter.
Israeli officials have warned Israeli citizens traveling abroad that they may be targets of Iranian terror attacks in the wake of the killing, and cautioned former Israeli nuclear scientists they could be in Iran’s crosshairs.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.