On March 21, the Persian New Year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic gave an address at a shrine in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city. The speech should be a must-read for any American policymaker who believes that now is the time to strike a deal with the Islamic Republic. Ideology can be an insurmountable obstacle, and Khamenei’s speech is simultaneously paranoid and xenophobic, blustering and aggressive, and ranting and fabulist. While many American officials place faith in negotiations, it is clear that Khamenei sees Obama’s letters and outreach as alternately irrelevant and pitiful. While advisers whispering in Obama’s ear suggest that the U.S. must foreswear regime change, Khamenei really doesn’t care. And when it comes to negotiations, Khamenei really doesn’t see any reason to compromise: Either the U.S. agrees with Iran’s position, or Khamenei will refuse to deal.
The whole speech is here, but below are some snippets, organized with sub-headings in bold which I inserted.
The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.
But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.
President Obama reaffirmed his pledge never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon today in Israel while also urging his listeners to give diplomacy more time to succeed. But the one person in the world whom the president needs to persuade to listen to reason on the issue apparently has other ideas.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in a message aired on Iranian TV that if the West attacked Iran, it would violently retaliate against Israel:
“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.
Iran’s threats can be dismissed as mere boasting intended for a domestic audience. The Iranians aren’t believed to have the capability of attacking Israel in this manner, let alone leveling cities. But the willingness of the ayatollah to speak openly about an act that could only be described as genocide only makes the argument for the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities all the more defensible, if not necessary.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.
Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.
Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.
But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:
In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.
Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?
Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.
But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.