Iran’s Supreme Leader Fires Back at U.S. Demands

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday scoffed at American demands that his country curb its military ambitions and issued his own set of demands to Europe to remain in the nuclear deal.

In his first speech since U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out the U.S. strategy against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s most senior leader fired back, threatening to withdraw from the deal and scale up Iran’s nuclear work if Europe didn’t meet seven conditions.

The demands came as Iranian officials engage in a flurry of talks with Europe to try to preserve the 2015 accord after President Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal earlier this month. The U.K., Germany, France and the European Union were involved in the negotiation of the 2015 agreement, which also included the U.S., Russia and China.

Mr. Khamenei’s conditions included a requirement that European countries not raise the issues of Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional presence—both central points of U.S. concern. He sought a European guarantee to buy Iranian crude to compensate for any lost Iranian oil sales due to American sanctions. And he asked that European banks guarantee they will transact with Iran.

On top of that, Mr. Khamenei demanded that the Europeans take a resolution to the United Nations condemning the U.S. for violating the nuclear deal. Mr. Khamenei spoke Wednesday evening during a meeting with top officials, according to his official website.

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An EU spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Khamenei’s remarks late Wednesday. The EU has called Mr. Trump’s decision “deeply regrettable” and refused to renegotiate the Iran deal. Foreign ministers from the bloc’s member states will discuss the issue Monday.

At the same time, European leaders have wavered over how aggressively to challenge U.S. objections to the deal. For instance, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out actions that could put the EU and the U.S. into a trade war over Iran sanctions.

The EU has pieced together a plan to counter the fallout from the U.S. sanctions and over the weekend dispatched European Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete to Tehran for high-level meetings, where Iranian and EU officials vowed to uphold the agreement if each party stuck by its commitments.

EU officials are also talking with Iranian counterparts to prevent a disruption to Iran’s oil exports, looking to establish the euro as the base currency for crude purchases and seeking to arrange direct cash transfers from European central banks to Tehran in a bid to circumvent the U.S.-dominated global financial system.

“Now the Americans are out, who are the permanent guys—the Europeans. So, the weight is on our shoulders,” Mr. Canete said in Tehran.

Mr. Pompeo, in his first major address as secretary of state on Monday, made 12 demands that Iran had to meet to avoid what he called the strongest economic sanctions in history. He said Iran had to stop all uranium enrichment, cease ballistic-missile development and withdraw forces from Syria—conditions many analysts say are non-starters for the country’s leadership.

Mr. Pompeo and other officials have stopped short of calling for outright regime change in Iran, but he has suggested the Iranian people could take matters into their own hands.

Tehran quickly rejected the demands. On Wednesday, Mr. Khamenei accused the U.S. of trying to topple the Iranian system and said Washington would ultimately fail.

“We don’t have any doubt about the enemy’s defeat,” he said.

The 78-year-old cleric used a Hollywood pop-culture reference to denounce the U.S., comparing Washington with the cat that never catches the mouse in the Warner Bros. cartoon “Tom and Jerry.”

“Like the famous cat in the ‘Tom and Jerry’ story, it will fail again,” Mr. Khamenei said.

Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8 set the stage for harsher sanctions pressure on Iran, breaking with his predecessor Barack Obama. The Obama administration unleashed crippling sanctions with the help of Europe as part of a strategy to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its disputed nuclear program, and then lifted the sanctions in 2016 after Iran agreed to curbs on its atomic ambitions.

Mr. Khamenei, who exchanged letters with Mr. Obama, has made a habit of launching insults at Mr. Trump since the U.S. president took office last year with a plan to undo the nuclear deal.

Mr. Khamenei responded caustically after Mr. Trump’s withdrawal, calling the president’s comments “stupid and worthless” and full of lies. He said if Iran accepted limits on its presence in the region and ballistic-missile development, the other side would only bring up other demands. “Mr. Trump,” he said after the withdrawal, according to his official website, “you can’t do a damn thing.”

In the past, Iranian leaders have sometimes engaged quietly in political talks even as Mr. Khamenei and others unleashed angry tirades. But Mr. Khamenei on Wednesday appeared to close the door on any possibility of new talks, saying Iran had learned that Washington won’t adhere to its commitments.

“Flexibility toward this enemy will not make the enemy’s blade blunt,” he said. “It will make it ruder.”

Mr. Trump and his allies long saw the deal as insufficient because its restrictions weren’t permanent, expiring in stages over the next couple of decades. They also criticized the deal because it didn’t curtail Iran’s military presence in the Middle East, or prevent it from developing ballistic missiles that Israel sees as a threat.

—Emre Peker in Brussels contributed to this article.

Write to Asa Fitch at asa.fitch@wsj.com

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