DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States and Israel on Thursday of waging a media war to discourage Iranians, state TV reported, as the country faces economic hardship after the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.
The rial currency has lost about two-thirds of its value this year under the threat of the sanctions, reimposed by President Donald Trump after he withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
The cost of living has also soared, sparking sporadic demonstrations against profiteering and corruption, with many protestors chanting anti-government slogans.
“Today, (Iran’s) Islamic system faces an all-out economic war that is carefully guided by a war room, but along with this war, there is a major media and propaganda warfare that is often neglected,” Khamenei told members of a senior clerical body.
Iranian officials have blamed popular messaging apps and social media campaigns which they say are organized overseas for protests against the flagging economy which erupted in December, spreading to more than 80 cities and towns and resulting in 25 deaths.
“The goal of this media war is to create anxiety ... and pessimism among people toward each other and the authorities, and to exaggerate economic problems in the minds of the public,” the television quoted Khamenei as saying.
“Based on our intelligence, the U.S. and Zionist (Israeli) spy agencies, financed by the super-rich of our region, have set up an organization for this media war and are seriously planning and trying to infect the advertising space and the minds in our community,” Khamenei said.
Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, and the United Arab Emirates have backed Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, reflecting the wealthy oil exporters’ concern about Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for militant groups.
Trump said on Wednesday he remained open to the possibility of talks between Washington and Tehran. However, he added: “Iran is in turmoil right now. They’re in total turmoil.”
“Now they are just worrying about their own survival as a country,” he told reporters, without offering any evidence.
Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mathew Mpoke Bigg