Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, gave an important policy speech on Thursday. In part, he was reacting to President Barack Obama’s remarks on Iran in his Super Tuesday press conference. While it contained a rare note of praise for the US president, the speech missed an opportunity to encourage negotiations and compromise.
These are the main points Khamenei made:
1. Khamenei praised President Obama for saying that the US had no present plans to go to war with Iran, and that Washington is content to let sanctions play out. The Iranian leader said,
” Two days ago, we heard the president of America say: “We are not thinking of war with Iran.” This is good. Very good. It is a wise word. This is an exit from illusion.”
2. Khamenei rejected, however, Obama’s contention that financial sanctions would cause Iran to mothball its civilian nuclear enrichment program. He said,
“In addition, he also said: “We will defeat the Iranian people with sanctions.” Not an exact quote. This is an illusion. The exit from illusion in the first part is good. The remaining within illusion, in the second part, will damage them. When one’s plans are based on illusion and not on realities, it is obvious that one will fail in plans based on such illusions. This is the reality.”
3. Khamenei gives as one piece of evidence that Obama is wrong about sanctions the enthusiasm with which Iranians voted in last month’s parliamentary elections. “The real majority that came to the scene, which was one of the highest turnouts during the past 33 years.” the ayatollah said.
4. Iran’s Supreme Leader maintains that the heavy turnout and enthusiasm show that people are still committed to the Islamic Republic and are unconcerned with the economic difficulties caused by US and international sanctions.
5. Khamenei reaffirms the importance of the elective sector of politics in the Islamic Republic. After the upheaval of 2009, some wondered whether he might not move away from a representative system. But he said
“This is our model, the model of the Islamic democracy. Islamic democracy the spirit, the main part and the main source of which consists of Islam. It should never be violated, there have not been any violations and with the help of God there never will be. Islam is our axis in the law, in creating laws and in choosing people. Democracy is the shape of the work, the essence of the work and the method of management.”
He also insists that the Iranian youth (reputedly among the more secular populations in the Middle East) have not in fact turned away from Islam.
That Iran has any vestiges of democracy, when who can run for parliament is so circumscribed or elective officials so easily overruled by Khamenei, is a questionable proposition. And every evidence is that the youth are not in fact interested in Khamenei’s form of government.
Khamenei much strengthened his position in parliament, and his tone of confidence reflects this buttressing of his importance.
Despite his backhanded compliment to President Obama for giving up the fantasy of military action against Iran, Khamenei offered nothing to Washington. He pledged that sanctions would not ‘defeat’ Iran. He made no concessions. This ungracious refusal to offer any sort of compromise, any opening, was unwise.