Iran Leaders on U.S. Tensions

Iranian leaders have disparate and, sometimes, conflicting views of how to respond to the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other hardliners seemed to rule out negotiations entirely. They have resisted making further concessions since the Trump Administration abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions in 2018.

But more centrist officials, such as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, left the door open for diplomacy. “We have always believed in talks," said Rouhani. "If they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere." The following are remarks from Iranian leaders on U.S.-Tehran tensions since January 2019.


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“The trick called ‘Deal of the Century’, which is being pushed by an oppressive America and its traitorous companions, is a crime against human society, and not just the Palestinian people. We call upon everyone to take an active part in defeating this deceit by the enemy.” 

—June 26, 2019, in a message to haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia 


“Now, they accuse this great, courageous and reputable nation. Who does so? The most vicious government in the world, in other words - the US government! The most vicious government and political system – one that is the main factor in waging wars, in shedding blood, in creating discord and in looting nations in the course of a long history, not only in the course of 10, 20 years – and the most hated figures in such a government are accusing the Iranian nation! Every day that passes, they swear at the Iranian nation and insult them in some way. The Iranian nation is not moved by these insults. The Iranian nation will not retreat with these insults and words of abuse!”

“Negotiation is a deception. Negotiating what? You have a weapon at your disposal and therefore, he does not dare advance. Therefore, he says, “Give me your weapon or drop it so that I can do whatever I want to you and so that I can create all kinds of disasters for you.” This is what negotiation is. If you accept what he says in this negotiation, you will be done. And if you do not accept his terms, there will be the same situation: the same skirmishes, the same fuss and the same propaganda campaigns. They will say, “they do not accept these sensible terms.” And they will rant and rave about American human rights and the same nonsensical remarks.” 

—June 26, 2019, in a meeting with officials from the judiciary branch


“The U.S. president recently said Iran can achieve development with its current leaders. That means they do not seek regime change ... But this political trick will not deceive Iranian officials and the Iranian nation.”

“In the missile program, they know we have reached a point of deterrence and stability. They want to deprive us from it, but they will never succeed.”

—June 4, 2019, in a speech on state television


“Well, regarding negotiating with the US, we have said many times that we will not negotiate. What is the reason? I have given the reason in different discussions: first of all, negotiating with the US will be of no use to us and secondly, it will be harmful. In other words, it is something useless and detrimental. I have already explained these issues.”

—May 29, 2019, in a speech to academics



“They wish to plot against our Sepah (the Guard corps) ... It is in the front line of confronting enemies of our (1979 Islamic) revolution and has always defended the country ... America has failed to block our advances.”

“In spite of all the pressure over the past 40 years, Americans have failed to do a damn thing and their vicious move will bear no fruit.”

—April 9, 2019, in an interview after the U.S. designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group



President Hassan Rouhani

“In the relations between Iran and the U.S., we will not witness any positive development unless the U.S. abandons the sanctions and corrects the wrong path it has chosen.”

—August 27, 2019, in a meeting in Tehran according to Tasnim News 


“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,”

“Even if the odds of success are not 90% but are 20 or 10%, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”

—August 26, 2019, in a televised speech


“World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran’s oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can’t have the same security as before. So unilateral pressure against Iran can’t be to their advantage and won’t guarantee their security in the region and the world.”

—August 21, 2019, in a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“It’s been over one year that Iranian people are under pressures because of unjust sanctions. These sanctions are in fact economic terrorism and crime against humanity because they are indiscriminately targeting everyone, even patients.”

—August 7, 2019, to reporters on National Journalists’ Day

“Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

—August 6, 2019, in a speech on state television


“They have started doing childish things. Every day they claim: ‘We want to negotiate with Iran, without any pre-conditions’ and then they put sanctions on the country’s foreign minister.”

—July 31, 2019 in a speech in western Azerbaijan province


“We have always believed in talks ... If they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere.”

—July 14, 2019, in a speech on state television


“Iran will not wage war against any nation. Those facing us are a group of politicians with little experience. Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

—June 18, 2019, in a speech on state television


“Whenever they lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments and return to the negotiations table, which they left themselves, the door is not closed.”

—May 29, 2019, in remarks on state television


“More than one year after the imposition of these severe sanctions, our people have not bowed to pressures despite facing difficulties in their lives.”

“We need resistance, so our enemies know that if they bomb our land, and if our children are martyred, wounded or taken as prisoners, we will not give up on our goals for the independence of our country and our pride.”

―May 23, 2019, in a speech commemorating the Iran-Iraq war


“In my visit last year to the United Nations, five well-known world leaders approached us to mediate a negotiation with U.S. President. Their State Department also sent requests to us eight times, but today is not the time of negotiation at all, but resistance and steadfastness. To reach our high goals and reduce problems, we all need to be united and unanimous and feel that we are at an economic war in which we need to help each other.”

―May 20, 2019, in a meeting with clerics and seminary students


“Today, an extremist group that is running the affairs in the White House has taken the authority from even the President, and this has made problems not only for the peoples of the region, but also America’s friends in Europe, Canada and Mexico. Today, all those who were allies to the United States, and all enterprise owners and entrepreneurs around the world are suffering. In such conditions, Zionism, the reactionaries and internal groups in the US, especially AIPAC, put pressure on the government to withdraw from the JCPOA.”

  ―May 8, 2019, in a speech to the cabinet


“Americans must know that they are the source of tyranny and terrorism in the region and the peoples of the region, especially the people of Iran, have rushed to help each other in hard times.”

"If you are trying to sow discord in Iran, you are wrong; there has always been a close relationship between the Revolutionary Guards and the people, and the people will never forget their 40-year sacrifices".

—April 10, 2019, in a cabinet session after the U.S. designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group


“We have not –and will not- ask for permission from anybody for improving our defensive power. We will continue this path and I say this clearly to the people of Iran that Iran’s military power in the past 40 years, especially in the recent 5 years has amazed the entire world.”

—February 11, 2019, in an address commemorating the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

“It’s clear that the U.S.’ intention..(of having a) naval presence in the Persian Gulf is to counter Iran.. Don’t expect us to remain quiet when somebody comes to our waters and threatens us.” 

—August 22, 2019, in a speech at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs 


“Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos. President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable. Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability and unpredictability is chaotic.”

—August 20, 2019, in a speech at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

"We believe that the best the US can do for the protection of maritime navigation is to just leave people alone; don't interfere. This is basically a hostile act against Iran and I do not believe it will have any impact other than insecurity." 

"If you are talking about threats coming from the region, the threats are coming from the US and its allies who are pouring weapons in the region, making it a tinderbox ready to blow up.” 

"What is very clear - extremely clear - is that we are not seeking war, we do not want confrontation, we want development for our people, we want development for our region.” 

—August 12, 2019, in an interview with Al Jazeera 


"On my trip to New York, I was told that I would be sanctioned within two weeks unless I accepted the offer, which I fortunately did not accept.”

"Boycotting a country's foreign minister means that your negotiations fell short. The United States has not won any war in modern times and that is why they were forced to use sanctions and boycotts against Iranian institutions and organizations.”

—August 5, 2019, at a press conference according to CNN


“You cannot simply disregard a possibility of a disaster but we all need to work in order to avoid one. There is a war going on right now. It's an economic war. An economic war against Iran targets civilian population and President Trump is on the record saying that he is not engaged in military war but in an economic war.”

“I think he [Trump] doesn't want war with Iran. I think he doesn't care about who rules Iran. He doesn't want regime change, but that's not what the people around him are interested in, and I think it is important for President Trump to look at the people around him. We take him at his words, that he doesn't want war.”

—July 17, 2019, in an interview with CNN in New York


"I believe President Trump is being advised by people who are not interested in promoting peace, but interested in advancing an agenda that they have had.”

“I know that there are people in his administration who are crazy for war. Who thirst for war."

"The United States—Secretary Pompeo has said—'we want the Iranian people to change their government.' Putting these two together, that means the United States is terrorizing the Iranian people in order to achieve political objectives. That's the classical definition of terrorism." 

—July 16, 2019, in an interview with BBC in New York


“I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn't mind. But I don't think they'll succeed because at the end of the day, I think prudence will prevail. People know that Iran is a big, proud country. And we will not take a military attack lightly."

"Once those sanctions are lifted, then ... the room for negotiation is wide open. It is the United States that left the bargaining table. And they're always welcome to return."

—July 15, 2019, in an interview with NBC in New York


"I think President Trump should remember that we don't live in the 18th century. There is a United Nations charter, and threat of wars is illegal."

—June 26, 2019, in an interview with CNN


“Mr. Trump himself has announced that the U.S. has launched an economic war against Iran. The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war…Whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it.”

—June 10, 2019, during a visit with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas


“We will continue to find buyers for our oil and we will continue to use the Straits of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil. That is our intention and that is what we believe will happen, but if the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it would be prepared for the consequences.” 

“The B team wants the United States to take crazy measures. And it won’t be the first time that the United States has taken adventurous measures.”

“I do not believe that there are many wrong choices left to make. So my hope is that after Washington has exhausted all the wrong choices, they may come to the right choices.”

—April 24, 2019, at an Asia Society event in New York City


“In the coming year, Iranians will experience the dividends of an emerging economy of resilience that will increasingly shield their livelihoods. This economy will be signified by greater connectivity, efficiency, transparency – and perhaps most importantly, accountability. In parallel, we will continue to engage with our partners to, brick by brick, dismantle the inhumane wall that the U.S. administration has labored to erect around us. Make no mistake: We rely solely on our own people to overcome any challenges. But we also welcome constructive engagement, including with the expanding array of nations who are equally sick and tired of the bullying of the U.S. Whether via closer engagement with our neighbors or our partners in the nuclear deal and beyond, we will continue to assume our place as a safe and reliable center for trade and commerce in a troubled region.”

—March 20, 2019, in a video message


“In the past two years, the U.S. has taken its animus towards Iran to a new extreme, as epitomized by its unlawful and unilateral abrogation of its commitments under the painstakingly-negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council. To gain accomplices in its lawlessness, the U.S. is now even laboring to force others to violate that Resolution, which explicitly calls for normalization of economic relations with Iran.”

“Driven by its pathological obsession with Iran, America has long encouraged reckless and destructive adventurism on the part of its clients: from arming Saddam Hussein in his attack against Iran to supporting the propagation of extremism; from aiding and abetting the ruining of Syria and bombing of innocents in Yemen to whitewashing the incarceration of a Prime Minister and dismemberment of a journalist. In parallel, the U.S. has systematically shielded Israel’s constant aggression against Palestinians, while insulating its severe violations of the sovereignty of Lebanon and Syria.”

“The U.S. claims—and some blindly parrot its accusation—that it is Iran which is interfering in the region. But has it ever been asked whose region? Just glimpse at a map. The U.S. military has traveled 10,000 kilometers to dot all our borders with bases. Meanwhile, it has milked the region of its resources through vast arms sales. According to the most conservative estimate, the GCC’s military spending alone will reach a record high of $100 billion this year—almost seven times that of Iran.”

—February 17, 2019, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference