Iran’s Khamenei: IRGC Quds are humanitarian organization with human values

Iran's leader delivers Friday prayer sermon for the first time since 2012.

IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a gathering in Tehran on Wednesday (photo credit: REUTERS)
IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a gathering in Tehran on Wednesday
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force should be viewed as a “humanitarian organization with human values.” His comments came while he was delivering the morning prayer sermon on Friday.
The Revolutionary Guards can take their fight beyond Iran's borders, the supreme leader said on Friday, responding to the U.S. killing of a top general and to unrest at home over the accidental downing of an airliner.
In his first Friday prayers sermon in eight years, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also told thousands of Iranians who chanted "Death to America" that European states could not be trusted after they launched a nuclear agreement dispute mechanism. Accusing France, Britain and Germany of serving US interests, Khamenei employed firm rhetoric to warn the European powers that they would not bring Iran to her knees, just as the US was unable to.
However, he added that Iran would be willing in principle to enter into negotiations with anyone - except the US.
"Resistance must continue until the region is completely freed from the enemy's tyranny," Khamenei said, in a reference to the United States that renewed his call for US troops to leave neighboring Iraq and the wider Middle East.
Washington's withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers and the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions has triggered an escalation in tensions over several months that briefly led to open conflict in January.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing in a drone strike on Jan. 3 of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for expanding Iran's influence abroad. He built up regional militias that Washington has blamed for attacks on US forces.
Iran responded with missile strikes on US targets in Iraq on Jan. 8, injuring although not killing U.S. troops.
"The fact that Iran has the power to give such a slap to a world power shows the hand of God," said Khamenei, in a reference to the strikes, adding that the killing of Soleimani showed Washington's "terrorist nature."
"The Quds Force is a humanitarian organization with human values that protects people across the region," Khamenei said. "They are fighters without borders."
In the tense aftermath of Iran's missile strikes on U.S. targets, when Iranian forces expected US reprisals, the Guards' air defenses shot down a Ukrainian airliner in error. It took days to admit the mistake, a delay that sparked protests across Iran that sometimes met a violent crackdown.
Trump sent tweets in Farsi and English to support the demonstrators, drawing a sharp response from Khamenei. "These American clowns who lie and say they are with the Iranian people should see who the Iranian people are," Khamenei said on Friday.
Calling for national unity, he said that Iran's "enemies," a term usually used to refer to the United States and its allies, had tried to use the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 to shift attention from the killing of Soleimani. Khamenei described the crash as a very tragic, very sad accident and called for steps to ensure there was no repeat, but accused his enemies of using the plane crash as a means to weaken the revolutionary guards. 
The funeral of Soleimani, long portrayed as a national hero but seen by the West as a ruthless adversary, had brought huge numbers of Iranian mourners to the streets. But scenes of mourning for Soleimani were followed by four days of protests over the plane disaster, when demonstrators chanted "Death to Khamenei" and "Clerics get lost."
To quell the demonstrations, riot police were sent onto the streets in force, lining up outside universities that were a focus for the protests. Video footage online showed protesters were beaten and also recorded gunshots and blood on the streets. Iran's police denied firing at protesters and said officers had been ordered to show restraint.
Two months ago, the authorities launched a bloody crackdown on protests that erupted over fuel price hikes, which have hurt ordinary Iranians already feeling the squeeze of U.S. sanctions. Washington reimposed sanctions after it withdrew from Tehran's nuclear pact with world powers. Since then, Tehran has scaled back on its commitments to the deal, including saying it would stop observing limits on uranium enrichment.
Britain, France and Germany have subsequently launched a dispute mechanism in the deal, which starts a diplomatic process that could lead to the re-imposition of UN sanctions.
"These European countries cannot be trusted. Even their negotiations with Iran are full of deceit," Khamenei said.