In this Monday, May 20, 2019 photo, released by U.S. Navy, an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the "Jolly Rogers" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) on Arabian Sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman/U.S. Navy via AP)

Iran supreme leader criticizes politicians amid US tensions

May 22, 2019 - 3:16 pm

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's supreme leader publicly chastised the country's moderate president and foreign minister Wednesday, saying he disagreed with the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal they had negotiated with world powers.

The extraordinary comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the first time he's criticized both politicians by name, came amid tensions with the United States a year after Washington's withdrawal from the accord.

Khamenei has final say on all matters of state, and his blaming the deal's unraveling limits the influence of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — relative moderates within Iran's Shiite theocracy who had struck the deal.

It also shows the growing power of hard-liners.

The White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.

Since that development, Iran has announced it will back away from the atomic accord. The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged off its coast, and Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have launched drone attacks into Saudi Arabia.

Both Washington and Tehran have said they want to ease heightened tensions in the region in recent days. But many fear a miscalculation between the two countries, who have a 40-year history of mistrust, could escalate the situation.

Khamenei made the comments before hard-line students gathered to hear a Ramadan lecture. The remarks come as hard-liners for years have criticized the accord for giving too much away from the West.

Khamenei had given his implicit stamp of approval on the deal, which when signed sparked spontaneous celebration across Iran. The accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

But the deal has unraveled after Trump's withdrawal, with the U.S. re-imposing old sanctions and coming up with even stricter new ones.

"To some extent, I did not believe in the way that the nuclear deal was implemented," Khamenei said, according to his official website. "Many times I reminded both the president and the foreign minister."

Khamenei has previously warned the West, especially the U.S., wasn't trustworthy. But he hasn't named the country's top elected politician and his top diplomat before Wednesday night. He's previously said the two had done the best they could.

This comes as Iran on Monday announced it had quadrupled its production capacity of low-enriched uranium. Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the nuclear deal, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.

But by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Mideast already on edge.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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