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Rouhani Says Iranian Leaders Must Listen To The People

Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) prays over the tomb of the founder of Iran's Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in southern Tehran on January 31.

President Hassan Rouhani has said that the Iranian people continue to support the clerical establishment despite foreign pressure but insisted that the country's leaders must listen to protesters behind a recent wave of unrest.

Rouhani made the comments on January 31, hours after President Donald Trump said the United States stands with the people of Iran against the country's “corrupt dictatorship.”

"The Iranian nation will never give up Imam Khomeini's legacy: Islamism and Republicanism. Return is impossible," Rouhani said during a visit to the mausoleum of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic republic, near Tehran.

"As long as people love the culture of Islam and love their Iran and safeguard their national unity, no superpower can change the path of this nation," he also said, referring to the United States.

Rouhani also hinted that popular support was at risk if the Iranian establishment did not listen to angry protests that have swept the country in recent weeks.

"All officials of the country should have a listening ear for people's demands and wishes," he said.

During his first State of the Union address on January 30, Trump referenced the protests that hit dozens of towns and cities over the new year.

“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent,” he said. “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.”

"Trump again confirms his ignorance of Iran & region. Everyone knows where he stands; and it's certainly not with Iranians," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later said in a message on Twitter.

Rouhani’s comments also came a day after Mehdi Karrubi, a prominent Iranian reformist who has been under house arrest for the past seven years, said that major reforms were needed "before it is too late."

In an open letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Karrubi said that the recent protests were inevitable because of the depth of "injustice, corruption, and discrimination" in the country.

In his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Trump also called on lawmakers to help pass legislation to fix “fundamental flaws” in the landmark nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

The 2015 accord, which was negotiated under President Barack Obama, lifted crippling Western economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But the U.S. president has stopped short of tearing up the deal altogether, a move some analysts feared could lead Iran to move more quickly to develop a nuclear weapon -- something Tehran says it has not done and does not plan to do.

With reporting by AP and AFP