* Tensions rise after U.S. quits nuclear pact with Iran
* Trump’s only goal is regime change in Iran -senior cleric
* (Changes slug, adds protests, quotes)
ANKARA, May 11 (Reuters) - A member of Iran’s clerical elite said on Friday Europeans could not be trusted after President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would remain in a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers even after the United States pulled out.
U.S. President Donald Trump declared on Tuesday that Washington was leaving the deal under which Iran curbed its nuclear programme, saying it was one-sided and he would reimpose sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the accord.
“America cannot do a damn thing. They have always been after the toppling of Iran’s regime and this exit is in line with that aim,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said in a televised address to worshippers at Tehran University.
State TV aired footage of demonstrators shouting slogans against the United States and Israel at rallies in Tehran and other cities and towns nationwide after Friday prayers.
They chanted, “Mr. Trump you cannot do a damn thing,” and, “We fight. We die. We don’t surrender,” in streets festooned with anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli banners and posters.
Both hardline conservatives and relative moderates in the Islamic Republic’s leadership condemned Trump’s hawkish approach to Iran with frustration growing among ordinary Iranians at the prospect of economic hardships as the result of new sanctions.
“These European signatories (to the deal) also cannot be trusted ... Iran’s enemies cannot be trusted,” Khatami said, as hardline protesters urged the government not to “repeat the same mistake” by re-entering negotiations.
“BRING DOWN ISRAEL IN RUINS”
Germany, France and Britain have reaffirmed their commitment to the deal but, in a bid to bring Washington back into it, want talks to be held with Rouhani’s government in a broader format covering Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its role in Middle Eastern conflicts, including in Syria and Yemen.
Rouhani and his ministers have sought to reassure Iranians that their oil-reliant economy can withstand a return to pressures sure to follow Trump’s rejection of the deal clinched under his predecessor Barack Obama after years of negotiations.
Iran’s economy has continued to struggle despite the easing of sanctions from early 2016. In late December, Iranians staged nationwide demonstrations over poor living standards, calling on Rouhani as well as Shi’ite clerical leaders to step down.
The pragmatist Rouhani championed the nuclear deal as the way to end Iran’s international isolation so if it falls apart he could face a career-threatening backlash. It could leave Iran’s hardliners, including the elite Revolutionary Guards, unchallenged at home and enable greater Iranian assertiveness abroad that inflame tensions in the Middle East.
Hardliners are placing their faith in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who, in Iran’s hybrid clerical-republican power structure, has the final say on major matters of state. Khamenei endorsed the 2015 deal only grudgingly.
“Our enemies cannot harm us if we listen to our leader Khamenei,” Khatami said to chants of “Death to America,” and “Death to Israel”.
Trump said on Tuesday that the accord, Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile testing, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 and its involvement in conflicts in the Middle East.
Iran says it is developing missiles solely for defence. But Khatami warned its arch-enemy Israel, which bombarded Iranian military targets in Syria earlier this week after Iranian forces fired rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
“We will expand our missile capabilities despite Western pressure ... to let Israel know that if it acts foolishly, Tel Aviv and Haifa will brought down in ruins and totally destroyed,” he said. (Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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