Trump ally Giuliani says end is near for Iran's rulers

U.S. President Donald Trump will suffocate Iran's "dictatorial ayatollahs," his close ally Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday, suggesting his move to re-impose sanctions was aimed squarely at regime change.

The former New York mayor who is now Trump's personal lawyer, was addressing a conference of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to Shi'ite Muslim clerical rule in Iran.

"I can't speak for the president, but it sure sounds like he doesn't think there is much of a chance of a change in behavior unless there is a change in people and philosophy," Giuliani told Reuters in an interview.

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US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question from the media after announcing his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intent to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a memorandum that re-instates sanctions on Iran after he announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House May 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. After two and a half years of negotiations, Iran agreed in 2015 to end its nuclear program in exchange for Western countries, including the United States, lifting decades of economic sanctions. Since then international inspectors have not found any violations of the terms by Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump announces his decision on the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We are the strongest economy in the world ... and if we cut you off then you collapse," he said, pointing to protests in Iran. In May, Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 international deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting some sanctions.

Trump supporters have spoken at NCRI events in the past, including national security adviser John Bolton, who, before taking his post at the same conference last July, told the group's members they would be ruling Iran before 2019 and their goal should be regime change.

Bolton said in May that the administration's policy was to make sure Iran never got nuclear weapons and not regime change.

In Tehran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Trump would fail in any attempt to turn the Iranian people against the ruling system.

"They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system ... but six U.S. presidents before him (Trump) tried this and had to give up," Khamenei said on his website.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani walks past a portrait of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he arrives to give a speech during a press conference in the capital Tehran on August 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - OCTOBER 07: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with generals of Navy of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and their families in Tehran, Iran on October 07, 2015. (Photo by Pool / Supreme Leadership Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NOWSHAHR, IRAN - SEPTEMBER 30 : In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader in Nowshahr, Iran on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony of the Iranian Navy cadets in the Northern city of Noshahr, Iran. (Photo by Pool / Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ran dini lideri Ayetullah Ali Hamaney, mam Humeyni Nuehr Deniz Kuvvetleri Harp Okulu'nda düzenlenen mezuniyet törenine katld. (Photo by Pool / Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Iraqi security forces stand on top of a building covered with a poster of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock the third holiest site in Islam, during a demonstration marking the Quds (Jerusalem) International day in the capital Baghdad, on July 10, 2015. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech under portraits of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Center L) and Iran's founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Center R), on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death, at his mausoleum in a suburb of Tehran on June 3, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 29 : Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (not pictured) meets with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on January 29, 2014 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by khamenei.ir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The fear of sanctions, which Giuliani said would be increased, has already seen major companies leave Iran despite Europe vowing to save the accord. Britain, France and Germany, which signed the Iran deal along with the United States, Russia and China say the agreement prevents Iran developing weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

But Giuliani said Europe should be "ashamed" of itself.

"Anybody who thinks the Ayatollahs are honest people is a fool. They are crooks and that's what Europe is propping up ... murderers and sponsors of terrorism. Instead of taking an opportunity to topple them they are now left propping them up," Giuliani said.

The NCRI members joined the 1979 Islamic revolution but later broke from the ruling clerics. Based in Iraq in the early 1980s, their fighters clashed with U.S. forces during the 2003 Iraq war, but have since renounced violence.

"Regime change in Iran is within reach as never before ... The wheels of change have started turning," Maryam Rajavi, who heads the group, told reporters at the conference.

NCRI, also known by its Farsi name Mujahideen-e-Khalq, was once listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union but is no longer.

Tehran has long called for a crackdown on the NCRI in Paris, Riyadh, and Washington. The group is regularly criticized in state media. (Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Grant McCool)

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