U.S. President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to warn Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to be "very careful with his words" after the Iranian called the U.S. leader a "clown" during a Tehran sermon.
"The so-called 'Supreme Leader' of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe," Trump tweeted on January 17.
"Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering. He should be very careful with his words!" Trump tweeted.
Trump also wrote that "the noble people of Iran -- who love America --deserve a government that's more interested in helping them achieve their dreams than killing them for demanding respect. Instead of leading Iran toward ruin, its leaders should abandon terror and Make Iran Great Again!"
Trump’s comments came hours after Khamenei called for national unity and defended the country's armed forces in the wake of angry protests over the downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner by Iran's air defenses last week.
In a sermon at Tehran's Mosalla Mosque, Khamenei -- the highest authority in Iran -- said those who took to the streets had been victims of deception by foreign media and would not change the opinion of most Iranians.
"The Iranian people love and want resistance to the world powers and no capitulation," the 80-year-old leader said as he addressed Friday Prayers for the first time in eight years.
Khamenei accused Iran's enemies of using the plane crash to question the Islamic republic, the armed forces, including the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which he said "maintained the security" of Iran.
He also called Iran's missile attack on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq earlier this month "a slap to a world power" and described U.S. President Donald Trump as a "clown" who only pretends to support the Iranian people.
The Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737-800 had just taken off from Tehran en route to Kyiv on January 8 when it crashed, killing all 176 people on board. Most of the victims were Iranian and Canadian nationals, with smaller numbers of Ukrainians, Afghans, Swedes, Britons, and Germans.
Iranian authorities initially denied any responsibility, but three days after the tragedy the IRGC admitted the plane was shot down "unintentionally."
The tragedy occurred hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, in response to the targeted killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. air strike earlier this month.
Iran’s January 11 admission that it had downed the Ukrainian plane led to days of protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities, with demonstrators chanting slogans against Iran’s clerical leadership.
Referring to Khamenei, mourners shouted "death to the dictator" as they buried victims of the plane disaster in the western Iranian city of Sanandaj on January 16, videos posted online showed.
In his sermon, Khamenei said the downing of the Ukrainian plane was a "bitter accident" that "burned through our heart."
But he added that the tragedy should not overshadow the "great martyrdom and sacrifice" of Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's foreign operations arm.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on January 17 that he had met his Canadian counterpart, Francois-Philippe Champagne, in Oman to discuss cooperation among nations affected by the disaster -- along with Canada, Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sweden, Britain, and Germany had passengers aboard the doomed flight.
"Politicization of this tragedy must be rejected. Focus on victims' families," Zarif tweeted
Khamenei, in his sermon, also said Soleimani’s assassination had saddened Iran as much as it made its enemies happy.
But the supreme leader told thousands of Iranians who chanted "Death to America" that Western countries are too weak to "bring Iranians to their knees."
Khamenei also blasted Britain, France, and Germany, which launched a dispute mechanism over Iran's violations of the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement, starting a process that could lead to reimposing UN sanctions against Tehran. Trump pulled out of the deal, but the three European nations had been trying to salvage the accord before launching the mechanism.
"These European countries cannot be trusted. Even their negotiations with Iran are full of deceit," Khamenei said
Meanwhile, police were out in force ahead of the prayers, which follow several days of protests over the downing of the Ukrainian plane, AFP reported. It said authorities had called for rallies across the country after the prayers to show support for Iran's armed forces and the IRGC.
Amnesty International has accused Iranian security personnel of using "unlawful force" -- including rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and air-gun pellets -- against peaceful protesters who had gathered in Tehran and other cities on January on 11-12.