Escalating a war of words with President Trump, Iran's supreme leader said Tuesday that the Islamic Republic was "not afraid of threats" and vowed large anti-American protests beginning Friday.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's remarks were his first since Trump attempted to bar Iranians from entering the United States and said he was putting Iran "on notice" after it tested a ballistic missile.
Meeting with military commanders, Khamenei said Trump's attempt to impose a travel ban against Iran and six other predominantly Muslim countries showed "the reality of American human rights."
"We thank [Trump], because he made it easier for us to reveal the real face of the United States," said Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran's theocracy. "What we have been saying, for over 30 years, about political, economic, moral and social corruption within the U.S. ruling establishment, he came out and exposed during the election campaigns and after the elections."
Tension between the two countries has risen in the two weeks since Trump took office. He has been sharply critical of the nuclear deal Iran signed with the United States and other world powers, although he has not taken concrete steps to dismantle it. Under the agreement, Iran shelved its uranium enrichment — which Western experts feared could be the precursor to a nuclear weapon — in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.
Trump also imposed new sanctions against Iranian companies last week, although they were seen as a largely symbolic measure, after Iran conducted a missile test.
Trump has accused former President Obama of appeasing Iran, tweeting Tuesday that Obama made a deal with Iran despite it being "#1 in terror."
The Iranian regime remains broadly supportive of the nuclear deal, which allowed an influx of foreign investment and started to reverse years of international isolation. But with a presidential election due in May, Khamenei and other hardliners have stepped up criticism of the agreement, saying the U.S. has blocked economic recovery by keeping some severe sanctions in place.
Khamenei rejected the idea that Iran should be grateful to the Obama administration.
"Why should we thank the former president? For creating Daesh?" Khamenei was quoted as saying Tuesday, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. "For setting fires in Syria and Iraq? For hypocrisy?"
He went on to accuse Obama of supporting "seditious" protests in Iran against the disputed 2009 presidential election.
Khamenei called on Iranians to show their defiance of Trump and the U.S. government by demonstrating Friday to commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer Bengali from Rome.