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Looking at Ali Khamenei
In the September / October 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs there is a piece on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as in who is this guy? The essay is written by Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident who was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006, and his writings are currently banned in Iran.
“Khamenei has always been critical of liberal democracy and thinks that capitalism and the West are in inevitable long-term decline. Moreover, he sees Washington as inherently Islamophobic. Nevertheless, he is not reflexively anti-Western or anti-American. He does not believe that the United States and the West are responsible for all of the Islamic world’s problems, that they must be destroyed, or that the Koran and sharia are by themselves sufficient to address the needs of the modern world. He considers science and progress to be ‘Western civilization’s truth,’ and he wants the Iranian people to learn this truth. He is not a crazy, irrational, or reckless zealot searching for opportunities for aggression. But his deep-rooted views and intransigence are bound to make any negotiations with the West difficult and protracted, and any serious improvement in the relationship between Iran and the United States will have to be part of a major comprehensive deal involving significant concessions on both sides.”
“After Iran’s presidential election in June 2009, hundreds of thousands of people poured out into the streets of Tehran and held peaceful demonstrations against the manipulated outcome. As the demonstrations spread, Khamenei, in a Friday prayer speech, compared the protests to the ‘color revolutions,’ particularly the one in Georgia, which he claimed the Americans and the British had launched. Khamenei emphasized that during the previous weeks, the speeches of American and European statesmen had become harsher, and that after the Tehran protests, they set aside their ‘masks’ and showed their ‘true features.’
“In a public speech in June 2011, Khamenei called the protests, which came to be known as the Green movement, a continuation of the regime-change policy of the United States and its allies and contrasted it with a true revolution, such as the one that led to the founding of the Islamic Republic: ‘A revolution that cannot defend itself in an age of sedition, against various political or military coup attempts and other such acts, is not alive. This revolution is alive, for it depends itself and indeed prevails and wins. This is certain, as you saw happen [following the protests] in 2009.’
“A frequent Khamenei theme is the constant presence of foreign threats to the Islamic Republic and the regime’s ability to withstand them. The United States and the Western bloc, he argues, want to overthrow the system in Iran and have launched a variety of attempts to do so, including Iraq’s military invasion in 1980, the manipulation of ethnic tensions, and economic sanctions. As he put it in another public speech in August 2010,
They want to bring the revolution down. One of the important means they have employed has been these economic sanctions. They say that [the sanctions] are not targeting the Iranian people, but they are lying! The sanctions are meant to cripple the Iranian nation. They are designed to exhaust the Iranian people and make them say, ‘We are under the pressure of the sanctions because of the [policies of] the Islamic Republican state.’ They want to sever the ties between the people and the Islamic Republican system. This is the true aim of the sanctions. They are exerting economic pressure by means of sanctions.
“He repeatedly claims that the stated rationales for U.S. policies are meant to mask more sinister motives. As he put it in yet another public 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 [Mohammad] Khatami’s term as president [Ed. Khatami was viewed as a moderate], 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. In a speech in January 2008, Khamenei noted,
Today, to whomever comes to us and says, ‘Sir, suspend temporarily,’ we say, ‘We have already had a temporary suspension, for two years!’ We had a two-year temporary suspension. How did it benefit us? ...We, for our part, imagined that it was temporary and imagined that ti was voluntary. Then, when we talked of resuming work, they started this media frenzy and tumult in political circles, saying, ‘Woe! Iran wants to end the suspension!’ The suspension became a sacred issue that Iran had absolutely no right to approach....Finally, they said, ‘This temporary suspension isn’t enough; you must completely pack the whole atomic project in.’ This was a setback for us. [The Khatami government] accepted the retreat. But this retreat had a positive effect for us. We learned a lesson from that experience. World public opinion learned from the experience, too....I said if this process of adding new demands is to go on, I will intervene. And I did. I said....we should go on the offensive [and resume enrichment].
“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. ‘In Libya,’ Khamenei said in his annual Iranian New Year speech in March 2011, ‘although Qaddafi had shown an anti-Western tendency during his first years in power, in later years, he performed a great service to the West....This gentleman gathered up his nuclear program,....gave it to the Westerners, and said, ‘Take it away!’ ...[Yet he was overthrown.]’ 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.”
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