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Iran's struggle with America should continue: cleric

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran must continue its struggle against the United States, a hardline cleric said on Friday a day after Washington renewed long-standing U.S. financial sanctions against Iran.

Iranian women walk past a mural outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran November 4, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

U.S. President Barack Obama offered a new approach toward Iran when he took office in January, but Iran remains locked in dispute with Washington and other world powers over its nuclear energy program.

The West suspects Iran’s nuclear work aims in part to allow it to acquire atomic weapons. Tehran denies the charge.

Iran has also accused Washington and other Western countries of fomenting protests that erupted after a presidential election in June which opposition candidates say was fraudulent.

“If we are to assure that the Islamic establishment, the revolution and Islam are to stay and the people are to live comfortably, the flag of the struggle against America should always stay hoisted,” Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said.

“What does it mean when the U.S. Congress comes and allocates $55 million for the weakening of the Islamic Republic? It means they are waging war against God and against the people of this country. They are constantly engaging in enmity,” he said in a Friday prayer sermon broadcast on state radio.

It was not clear what allocation Jannati was referring to, but Congress has in the past provided money for promoting democracy and civil society groups in Iran.

Obama notified Congress on Thursday that he was extending a set of existing U.S. measures against Tehran for another year, saying relations with the Islamic republic had not returned to normal.

The sanctions, which involve certain frozen Iranian assets, stem from a “national emergency” the U.S. government declared in November 1979 during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S.-backed Shah was deposed and revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Such sanctions have to be extended annually by the U.S. president to remain in effect. The timing of Obama’s move did not appear intended to send a message to Iran, which faces the threat of a U.S.-led push for further international sanctions unless it complies with demands over its nuclear work.

Reporting by Hashem Kalantari; writing by Andrew Hammond; editing by Dominic Evans