Iran's supreme leader says a stronger economy can fight sanctions, improve country's image

Iran's top leader says his nation can best counter sanctions imposed by the West by strengthening its economy.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iranians should not wait for the sanctions to be lifted but work to build a stronger economy to "reduce vulnerability."

Khamenei's remarks were part of his annual speech for the Persian New Year, Nowruz. He spoke on Friday in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran.

Iran has been hit hard by international sanctions over its nuclear program that have targeted the vital oil and financial sectors. Tehran denies it's trying to make nuclear weapons.

Khamenei in February ordered the government to create an "economy of resistance" to counter the sanctions.

The project involves efforts to diversify Iran's exports, reduce dependence on sales of raw materials and promote knowledge-based high-tech industries.