Iran's foreign minister accuses US of supporting 'dictators, butchers, extremists'

  • Zarif was responding to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, in which the latter reiterated his focus on containing the actions of Iran, a country the U.S. designates the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.
  • The back-and-forth continues to highlight the opposing narratives of Tehran and Washington, whose diplomatic relations have been frozen since 1980.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Getty Images
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issued a familiar line against the U.S. on Wednesday, accusing Washington of backing "dictators, butchers and extremists."

Zarif was responding to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, in which the latter reiterated his focus on containing the actions of Iran, a country the U.S. designates the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.

"My administration has acted decisively to confront the world's leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran … We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants 'death to America' and threatens genocide against the Jewish people," Trump said, eliciting applause from many in the audience.

Zarif responded on Twitter: "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."

The back-and-forth is nothing new, but continues to highlight the opposing narratives of Tehran and Washington, whose diplomatic relations have been frozen since 1980.

Iran points specifically to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's monarchy, which it and others in the international community accuse of killing thousands of civilians in Yemen's civil war, a conflict the UN has deemed the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Tehran, meanwhile, backs Syria's authoritarian leader Bashar Assad, who's been charged with using chemical weapons against his own people and killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians in that country's eight-year-long war.

40 years of the Islamic Republic

Iran is currently celebrating 40 years of the Islamic Republic, commemorating the Islamic Revolution of 1979 when protestors overthrew Iran's secular and Western-supported monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, heralding the implementation of a theocratic government.

Zarif's reference of Iran's Jewish population is one often used by the country's politicians to rebuff international accusations of anti-Semitism. Iran is home to an estimated 20,000 Persian Jews, a number that hovered around 100,000 before the Islamic Revolution. Jews are protected under Iran's constitution and are free to worship in Iranian synagogues, but lack equal rights to Muslims in certain respects, such as the ability to serve in certain judicial or military positions.

Iranian Jews cited in media reports describe feeling safe and comfortable practicing their faith in Iran, though with steep punishments for any criticism of the government, it's hard to know what the climate is on the ground. Anti-Semitic speech often features in public dialogue and among some lawmakers.

Trump in May withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a multilateral agreement led by the Obama administration to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits to its nuclear program. The administration cited Iran's "malign activity" in the region, including support for proxy militant groups and ballistic missile testing, as its primary motivation for abandoning the deal.

Since the re-imposition of sanctions on many of Iran's sectors, including shipping, minerals and most significantly oil, the country's currency has tanked and its economy has gone into recession. The sanctions, combined with what analysts describe as years of economic mismanagement and corruption, have produced what Iran's leaders recently called the toughest economic situation in 40 years.