Tehran, Iran (CNN)Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stood before a big crowd celebrating the Islamic Revolution’s 40th anniversary on Monday and vowed to boost his country’s military and ballistic missile program, defying US pressure and sanctions.
“Iran will continue to expand its military might and missile program,” Rouhani said in front of tens of thousands of people who had gathered in Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square to mark the 1979 overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a Western-installed monarch, which paved the way to clerical rule.
US President Donald Trump has said that the economic sanctions he re-imposed in 2018 sought to keep Iran’s military — namely its ballistic missile program — in check.
Tehran has tried to present the anniversary rallies as a show of support for the regime and Rouhani has accused Trump of openly agitating for regime change in Iran.
“Today we are the target of a psychological and economic war. Enemies who seek to belittle us, we must resolve these problems with one another,” said Rouhani on Monday. “With the assistance and the help of one another … we will be victorious in the face of America.”
‘Death to America’
The recital of Quranic verses mixed with revolutionary chants as a sea of people carried Iranian flags and demonstration banners. Stalls that lined the road to the main square distributed information pamphlets, hosted live radio shows and showcased young children singing Islamic and nationalist anthems.
“When we say ‘Death to America’ we mean down with Trump, and (US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo,” said cleric Mohammed Reza Maqsood, 32, referring to the inflammatory chant that has long been a staple of the Islamic Republic’s national celebrations.
Maqsood was echoing an address made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Friday where he said that “Death to America” applied only to “Trump, (National Security Adviser) John Bolton and Pompeo.”
“I chose to come here and rally so that I can see. I don’t need a higher education to see the support here,” Maqsood added.
‘Conflict with the Islamic Republic would fail’
The chief of the Iranian military’s elite Revolutionary guards was also among the crowds marching to Azadi Square.
In a rare interview with Western media, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari told CNN: “With the missiles we have right now, with the progress in high technology and with the self-reliance we have achieved in various fields, and also with the growth of the population in Iran, we have the power and capacity to defend against any kind of invasion.”
Jafari said popular support for the government, as well as Iran’s “expanded defense system” has rendered the Islamic Republic “invincible.”
“The Americans and other big powers know that a conflict with the Islamic Republic would fail,” said Jafari. “They have started a soft war, a cultural, political and economic war against us, and our people have understood that. They are resisting and they are prepared.”
Iranian authorities have tried to build up anticipation for the anniversary. For days, state-aligned TV stations have aired archival footage from the 1979 protests. They re-ran dramatic video of the country’s first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Rouhallah Khomeini arriving in Tehran after 14 years in exile and replayed the charismatic leader behooving crowds to shake off the shackles of “Western imperialism.”