Iran’s Leader “Optimistic” about Rowhani’s US Diplomacy, but Skeptical of Washington, Israel

Iran’s supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke on Saturday to cadets at a military school, and in the course of his speech he referred to the new round of diplomacy with the United States initiated by President Hassan Rouhani with the United States. Khamenei was largely supportive of Rouhani’s initiative, saying “we approve and support the government’s diplomatic moves.” He said he is “optimistic” about the Iranian government’s “diplomatic initiative.”

He did say that something “inappropriate” (ghayr-i mola’em) occurred on Rouhani’s trip, which is probably a reference to the Iranian president’s brief phone call with Barack Obama. That phone call had also been criticized by Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Jaafari said that Rouhani should have waited until he had gotten something tangible from the US before making that call to Obama. Khamenei seems to agree. But note that Jaafari didn’t say no such call should ever be made, only that it was premature given that so far Rouhani is empty-handed.

On the other hand, Khamenei expressed suspicion of whether the US is negotiating in good faith. He views it as an aggressive power seeking dominance over others, and reminded his young audience of the treaty of extraterritoriality that Iran had with the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, when there were US bases and US troops in Iran. By the terms of the treaty, US military personnel were not subject to Iranian law of courts. Khamenei recalls that an American sergeant could beat up an Iranian colonel, and the Iranian would have no recourse. (Similar resentments recently beset the Shiites of Iraq, which is one reason the Iraqi parliament declined to allow US troops to stay in that country after December of 2011).

Khamenei also decried the US, which he said is “dominated” by what he called “the international Zionist network.” That is, he sees the US as subordinate to Israeli influence rather than as acting in American interests. He doesn’t explain how the US can be “arrogant” and “trespassing” but also allow itself to be bossed around by a small country of 7.5 million.

The suspicion is mutual. On Saturday President Obama said that Iran was a year or more away from having a nuclear weapon. While he may have intended to tamp down Israeli hysteria that Iran is on the brink of having warheads, he conceded too much by his phraseology. It is not proved that Iran has a nuclear weapons program at all, or that it is even seeking a bomb, as opposed to a breakout capability. So it may not be a year away from having a bomb, it may be forever from having one.

Undersecretary of State for political affairs Wendy Sherman the point person in US negotiations with Iran, asked Congress not to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran given it just opened a round of diplomacy. But she went on to say that the Obama administration would insist on thorough-going negotiations, saying of Iran that “we know that deception is part of the DNA”.

I don’t think people in Washington who talk like that realize how offensive such language is, with racialist overtones. Try saying of a Western country that deception is part of its people’s DNA and see what happens to you. I’m sure the Islamic Republic is duplicitous, but I’m not sure it is a matter of DNA or that it is more duplicitous than many other governments that are US allies.

In any case, Khamenei has given evidence in support of Rouhani’s assertion that the Leader has given him support in his diplomatic initiative, and has expressed “optimism” about that initiative despite his distrust of Washington and its special relationship with Israel.

The USG Open Source Center translated Khamenei’s remarks from his website.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader ‘Pessimistic’ About USA
. . . Speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i at a military cadets ceremony in Tehran on 5 October — recorded
Leader.ir
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

The Iranian nation is a nation that has shown its firmness in defending its ideals and interests and it has shown its desire for safety and peace and coexistence with Muslim brothers and all human beings. These are parallel to each other. We should add that we approve and support the government’s diplomatic moves. We emphasize diplomatic efforts and measures along with the Iranian nation’s comprehensive preparedness . . . We support whatever our government does, be it the recent events of the (president’s and foreign minister’s) trip (to New York) or other diplomatic efforts and measures they take. Of course, some of the things that happened during the New York trip, we believe, were not proper. However, we are optimistic about the diplomatic delegation of our dear nation and its servant, the government.

Certainly, we are pessimistic about the Americans. We do not trust them. We consider the government of the United States of America as an unreliable, arrogant, illogical, and trespassing government, which is badly possessed and dominated by the international Zionist network. They are forced to appease the extorter and forged regime that has occupied Palestine to observe the illegitimate desires and interests of the international Zionist network. They ought to be flexible against it for the interests of the international Zionist network.

They call it America’s interests, whereas America’s national interests entirely contradict what they are doing today in support of the forged regime. The government of the United States of America is blackmailing the entire world, appeasing the forged Zionist regime. We witness these facts. We do not trust the US government. We trust our own officials. We are optimist and we want them (officials) to take right and firm steps carefully and considering all aspects. They should not forget national interests even for a second.

The important point for the Islamic Republic’s system is the internal strength of the structure of the Islamic Republic, the internal strength of the Iranian nation. This has managed to protect the country, national unity, respect to great ideals of the Islamic Republic, and respect to the national honor. The Iranian nation is a dear nation. The revolution gave honor back to them.

The time when an American sergeant could dare to beat up an Iranian colonel on Iranian land and officials of our dear country had to observe the arrogant enemies is over. The Islamic Republic made the Iranian nation dear. This honor remains and it is increasing day by day. It is the duty of all officials and the Iranian nation to defend and steward it. A nation becomes proud by its main identity and honor. Otherwise, the nation cannot make progress. The duty of the Armed Forces is to be prepared. They should have the spirit to defend the ideals and the nation that trusts them and backs them.”

26 Responses

  1. “He doesn’t explain how the US can be “arrogant” and “trespassing” but also allow itself to be bossed around by a small country of 7.5 million.”

    Did he have to explain? Everyone is familiar with the “3rd rail” in US foreign policy, which elected politicians are justifiably fearful of touching.

  2. There is another dimension here, not yet mentioned; the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientists by forces unknown. The Iranian, Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) is suspected.
    A very interesting Independent article here;
    link to independent.co.uk

    • There are several dimensions at work—great article.

      The MEK and Israel don’t want to see Iran and the U.S. playing nice and might take extreme measures to see that it doesn’t happen, but I can also understand why radicals in the Revolutionary Guard would like to slow things down.

      It’s like a multi-level chess game.

  3. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statement on his view of the United States: “We consider the government of the United States of America as an unreliable, arrogant, illogical, and trespassing government…” is hardly less offensive than Wendy Sherman’s statement: “We know that deception is part of the DNA.”

    “Unreliable,” “arrogant,” “illogical,” “trespassing government,” “deception in DNA”: they all sound equally offensive and equally petty, coming from two individuals who presumably are adults, one the de facto leader of his country, the other a high level foreign policy official.

    • As I recall it, this kind of language is just a part of the lexicon and arsenal of the Great Game. Tit, “axis of evil, ” for tat, ” the great Satan. You Players, who so shamelessly whip up tribal Furors with your propaganda and “wars of choice, ” ought to pipe down about now, since the whole system you have set up is near to strangling the planet. You “grown-ups” who have been using the world’s lunch money, breathable air and potable water, and our ordinary-person muscles and blood, as the markers and Monopoly Money of your so-Serious Game, and are such prideful masters of deception, skuduggery, overthrow and undermining and installation of “friendly” dictators, might ought to eschew hypocritical false equivalences in pitching for your team…

      • Don’t know to whom you refer when you throw around terms such as “You Players,” “You Grown-ups,” and other terms and phrases taken from your handy stack of 3×5 index cards. One thing for sure, though, is that the utterances of Khamenei and Sherman are certainly not false equivalences; they are equally offensive if one hopes to gain traction in each understanding the other.

        • I wouldn’t say the remarks are equally offensive; one criticises a government, the other, with its reference to DNA, is openly racist towards a population as a whole (on the level of literal meaning, at any rate).

          Put it this way: how would the US media treat anyone remarking that for Israelis “deception is part of the DNA”?

  4. Thank you for correcting the erroneous impression given by some sections of Western media alleging that Iran’s religious leader Ali Khamenei and the commander of the revolutionary guards had condemned President Rouhani’s opening to the West. During the past few days there have been many reports with headlines such as, “Divide Seen Between Iran’s Supreme Leader, Rouhani”, or “Not Proper says Iran’s Supreme Leader”, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Criticizes Rouhani for Chatting with Obama”, exaggerating the tone of Khamenei’s remarks as though he had criticized the entire opening to the West.

    As you point out, he was speaking to Iranian cadets and while supporting the government’s policy of détente he had to reassure the militants that it did not mean selling out to the West. In a way, his indirect reference to Ruhani’s telephone conversation with President Obama and his references to what he called “the international Zionist network” should be put against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s extreme remarks about Iran in his UN speech. Even President Obama during his meeting with Netanyahu again repeated his mantra of “all options are on the table, including the military option”. Not only Khamenei, but Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said that he felt insulted by those remarks and said that they were at variance with the spirit of cooperation that was on display during his and Ruhani’s visit to New York.

    The Iranians have also heard the remarks by US’s chief negotiator Wendy Sherman about deception being part of Iranian DNA. Sherman went on to say: “So since we know they’re continuing with their nuclear program and because of the history that you point out, when Rouhani was the chief negotiator, 2003 to 2005, we know that deception is part of the DNA, we want to make sure that we can put some time on the clock for those comprehensive negotiations.” The idea that Rouhani cheated during 2003-2005 negotiations have been totally debunked by many experts who were involved in the talks, link to lobelog.com
    but still they are repeatedly used by neocons to discredit him.

    Sadly, most governments engage in acts of deception, but referring to Iran’s alleged deception as “part of their DNA”, and that coming from someone with whom they have to negotiate, is bound to make Iranians suspicious of the good intentions of the other side. Sherman also told the Senate panel last Thursday that any diplomatic engagement with Iran will be accompanied by the “vigorous enforcement” of sanctions already in place, which she described as “the toughest sanctions the world has ever seen”. In that case, why should Iranians take part in any negotiations at all.

    In fact, several senators are preparing to propose a toughening of sanctions against Iran. Senator Robert Menendez who heads the Foreign Relations Committee has said that he intends to submit these proposals this week. Menendez was among several senators and congressmen who met with Netanyahu during his visit to the United States and said that they supported his call for harsher sanctions against Iran.

    All this shows that both sides have a lot of work to do. The Iranians have to keep their hardliners on board, while President Obama has to keep not only AIPAC, but also US Congress and the Republican Party, not to say anything of Israel, onboard. I think in all fairness President Obama has a much tougher nut to crack.

    • Sherman also told the Senate panel last Thursday that any diplomatic engagement with Iran will be accompanied by the “vigorous enforcement” of sanctions already in place, which she described as “the toughest sanctions the world has ever seen”. In that case, why should Iranians take part in any negotiations at all.

      I think you misunderstand; she’s saying there will be both carrots and sticks in the negotiations, not that the sanctions will remain regardless of the outcome.

      But you’re right about which leader has to watch his back more. Khamenei deducted some style points; Menendez took a substantive step to blow up the talks.

  5. Isn’t having Wendy Sherman acting as the point person in US negotiations with Iran a bit like having Martin Indyk as the point person in US negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians ?

      • Some would say “FUBAR.”

        Interesting how a relatively few human critters can create so much Grim And Serious-Sounding Idiocy, and so much misery for so many others, so many of whom, blessed with the brains and souls G_D gave them, seem just unable to do anything other than just go along…

  6. Given the ongoing revelations of NSA spying, and the actions by the Republican Party in both advocating for a government shutdown and then blaming the Democrats for the shutdown (“Now look what you made me do…”), I’d say that duplicity is built into the political process generally. After all, it’s why we find this phrase amusing: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”

  7. “He doesn’t explain how the US can be “arrogant” and “trespassing” but also allow itself to be bossed around by a small country of 7.5 million.”

    The good news is that Israel may be losing its clout. “Israel’s lost clout: The Israeli government and the neocons have long felt they can dictate U.S. policy in the Mideast, including demands for military strikes against “enemies.” But President Obama’s push for diplomacy on Syria and Iran may be challenging that longstanding reality,” writes Lawrence Davidson. – link to consortiumnews.com

  8. This is a serious question: what is the Supreme Leader’s background and what qualifies him to speak on behalf of 75 million Iranians?

    • “… what qualifies him to speak on behalf of 75 million Iranians?”

      He’s the Supreme Leader. In other words, he’s the boss.

      • Mr. Bodden is absolutely correct. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is, has been, and will continue to be, “the boss.” Don’t ever think that anything Rouhani says or does will be done without Khamenei’s blessing. And if Rouhani were to deviate from Khamenei’s line (as he apparently did in the phone conversation with Obama), he (Rouhani) would be brought into line pronto.

  9. According to Foreign Affairs (September/October 2013), it appears that Khamenei has sound reasons for questioning US goodwill. Khamenei, “repeatedly claims that the stated rationales for U.S. policies are meant to mask more sinister motives. As he put it in [a] speech in August 2011, ‘Although the excuse for the sanctions is the issue of nuclear energy, they are lying. … Perhaps you recall that the first sanctions against this country were enacted at a time when the nuclear issue absolutely did not exist. … Thus, the enemy’s goal is to hurl the Islamic Republic to the ground.’ Khamenei bases such arguments partly on what he sees as two failed attempts by Iran to compromise with the United States. The first was during Khatami’s term as president, when the government suspended its uranium enrichment for two years as a trust-building measure. Khamenei believes the Western governments were not interested in trust building, only in making the pause in enrichment permanent. The two-year suspension resulted in no achievements for Iran — not the lifting of sanctions, nor the release of frozen Iranian assets in the United States, nor any other reward. … Khamenei then went on to remind his audience that despite Khatami’s willingness to compromise, his kind words for Americans, his cooperation in toppling the Taliban and in the subsequent Bonn negotiations to install a pro-American government in Afghanistan, U.S. President George W. Bush had still included Iran in his ‘axis of evil.’ The second experience he draws on is Libya’s 2003 decision to give up its nuclear ambitions, which nevertheless did not prevent Muammar al-Qaddafi’s violent removal through NATO military involvement. … Khamenei suspects that even if all of Iran’s nuclear facilities were closed down, or opened up to inspections and monitoring, Western governments would simply pocket the concessions and raise other issues — such as terrorism, human rights, or Israel — as excuses for maintaining their pressure and pursuing regime change. To Khamenei, when it comes to nuclear weapons, the Iraqi and Libyan cases teach the same lesson. Saddam and Qaddafi opened their facilities up to inspections by the West, ended up having no nuclear weapons, and were eventually attacked, deposed, and killed. Major compromises by Iran on the nuclear front without significant concessions by the West, he believes, could end up leading to similar consequences for the Iranian regime.”
    link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

    • If that is the case – if the Iranian government is assuming that the nuclear non-proliferation argument is merely a pretext – then the Obama administration’s actions towards Syria may have played a role in the thaw.

      Remember that the administration spent two and a half years prior to the August 21 chemical attack opposing military action in Syria, then changed its policy in response to a WMD crisis, and then backed off military action when the chemical weapons issue was resolved, despite there being no progress on the Syrian Civil War itself.

      That is a convincing demonstration that, to this administration, it really is about the unconventional weapons and their proliferation, and that they aren’t just using that as an excuse for an unrelated foreign policy goal, as was done in Iraq.

      • Repeat it often enough, and it becomes the “truth.” Right? And I see, under the heading of “unconventional weapons,” that the Assad forces are now using fuel-air explosives to fry and blast school children. Is that going to raise a similar hue and cry with raised Tomahawks?

        What they do: link to youtube.com

        What they apparently did: link to medium.com

  10. When Ms Sherman said, “The fundamental large sanctions that we have in place should not disappear anytime soon, unless all of our concerns are addressed by the Iranians,” was she also speaking of the entire people? Or has the perfesser misconstrued a common figure of speech? Ima bet the latter.

  11. “He doesn’t explain how the US can be “arrogant” and “trespassing” but also allow itself to be bossed around by a small country of 7.5 million.” Rome rules the world, Caesar rules Rome, but Livia rules Caesar. You do the substitution.

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