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Iran rallies against US and warns Europe over endangered nuclear deal

TEHRAN — Iran’s hard-line authorities organized nationwide rallies on Friday to denounce the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement, burning American flags and warning that Europe might further sabotage the accord.

The reaction reflected the view held by many hard-liners that the US withdrawal had vindicated their suspicions that Westerners were treacherous.

The anger on display in Tehran and other cities also reinforced the possibility that Iran would now abandon the agreement as well, restarting the
nuclear-fuel enrichment it had halted.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a well-known hard-liner who leads the Friday Prayer services in Tehran, admonished fellow citizens against making any deals with foreigners “since they cannot be trusted.”

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In his sermon, broadcast on state television, Khatami criticized Iranian politicians who have looked toward Europe to preserve the nuclear agreement, arguing that the Europeans, too, have broken promises.

Khatami also threatened two Israeli cities, Tel Aviv and Haifa, with destruction if Israel ‘‘acts foolishly’’ and retaliates against Iran again.

The Israeli military this week targeted Iranian positions inside Syria in its biggest coordinated assault on that country since 1973. Israel said the action was in response to an Iranian rocket barrage.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Friday called on Syria President Bashar Assad to ‘‘get rid’’ of Iranian forces in his country, warning their continued presence would only cause trouble.

‘‘We did not come to the Iranian border, they came here,’’ Lieberman said.

Braham Ghasemi, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said Israel’s attacks came ‘‘under fabricated and baseless excuses.’’ He added that Damascus has the legitimate right to respond to what he said were repeated violations of the country’s sovereignty.

The outpouring of anger, in demonstrations organized around Iran on Friday, was the most strident so far to President Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he was abandoning the nuclear agreement reached with Iran and other major powers three years ago.

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The agreement relaxed or ended many economic restrictions on Iran in return for its verifiable pledges to never make nuclear weapons, including a freeze on nuclear fuel production for at least 15 years.

Trump called the agreement too weak and described it as a shameful giveaway to Iran by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Trump’s announcement restored onerous US sanctions on Iran, including penalties for foreign companies that do business with that country. His announcement was widely criticized around the world but drew praise from Iran’s regional enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

While European governments have said they want to preserve the accord, the participation of the United States was widely considered to be crucial to its survival.

Even before Trump announced the pullout, non-American businesses were wary about making any financial commitments in Iran, fearful of such an outcome.

Many Iranians, who had hoped the nuclear accord would bring a flood of investment and business to the country of 80 million, have been deeply disappointed.

Reminding Iranians of this point, Khatami said Europeans had been expected to invest in Iran after the nuclear agreement took effect but most never did.

He exhorted listeners to shout “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”

In response to what Israel has described as its aerial assaults on Iranian bases in Syria, Khatami also said Iran would “rob the Israeli regime of sleep” and threatened to “raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”

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The US withdrawal from the nuclear accord is considered a serious political blow to Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, who had promised the agreement would end the country’s prolonged isolation and economic travails.

The withdrawal reinforced the anti-American hostility of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who reluctantly had gone along with Rouhani and his nuclear negotiators.

The mood at Friday Prayer services was defiant in Tehran, where hard-liners burned American flags.

One worshiper, Hassan Khedri, 24, with spiky hair and a sleeveless shirt, said: “I am an Iranian Kurd and I am ready to fight with America and Israel. I only wait for the command of the chief commander, our Supreme Leader Khamenei.”

Another worshiper, Hasan Biagi, 65, said the threat to the nuclear agreement caused by the American pullout showed the true faces of Iran’s enemies.

“We cannot even rely on Europe,” he said. “This is a big lesson for us. Never trust the West.”

In a statement Thursday, the government warned France, Germany, and Britain that they “must take the necessary action to safeguard the accord and to implement their commitments.’’