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Iran's top ayatollah: We're trumping the West, but beware infighting at home

In a State of the Union-like speech before March elections, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to press on with Iran nuclear program, but warned of internal divisions between conservatives.

By Staff writer / February 3, 2012

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to worshippers during Friday prayers at Tehran University Feb. 3. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday the Islamic Republic would not yield to international pressure to abandon its nuclear course, threatening retaliation for sanctions aimed at Iran's oil exports.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed today that Iran would not "retreat" on its nuclear program, and warned that any military strike "will be 10 times more detrimental to the US" than to Iran.

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In a defiant speech delivered at Friday prayers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khamenei portrayed the Islamic Republic as an omnipotent, triumphant regional player whose revolutionary example was the "biggest success in modern history," even as the US and NATO were "becoming weaker and weaker."

He claimed that Iran is the vanguard of an Arab world "Islamic Awakening," which brought down three dictators in the past year, and said Iran would support "any group in the world" fighting Israel.

Coming just days before the 33rd anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Khamenei's near-exultant speech – Iran's annual equivalent of a State of the Union address – elucidated Iran's current worldview as pressure mounts toward conflict. But his declarations of Iranian influence abroad were also counterbalanced by his acknowledgement of "weaknesses" and political division at home.

With parliamentary elections due in one month, Khamenei criticized the "blame game" between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration and other conservative elements of the regime, and lectured: "Unity is the cure to lots of ailments in our country."

Mr. Ahmadinejad sat alongside key rival politicians, clerics, and Revolutionary Guard commanders in the front two rows among thousands of the faithful at Tehran University.

Khamenei hinted at his concern over the upcoming vote – the first since the 2009 presidential election, which sparked weeks of violent street protests that commanders have since acknowledged brought the regime closer to collapse than any other single event.

Khamenei appealed for a high turnout, telling Iranians that this would "immunize" the country against outside threats. "The more turnout, the greater your power will be," he said.

A glimpse into Iran's world view

But that domestic concern was overshadowed by Khamenei's more powerful delivery as he reinforced Iran's longstanding regional policies.

Referring to Israel, the ayatollah said, "The Zionist regime is really the cancerous tumor in this region and it needs to be removed and it will be removed," according to a simultaneous English translation on state-run PressTV.

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