November 20, 2013 | Policy Brief

Ali Khamenei’s Defiant Diatribe

November 20, 2013 | Policy Brief

Ali Khamenei’s Defiant Diatribe

While the Western media continue to speculate on the P5+1 negotiations in Geneva, the Iranian media tuned in to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's speech today addressing the commanders of the Basij Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Iranian media were wise to focus on Khamenei’s speech. He, along with the IRGC and Basij commanders, will be the ultimate arbiter of what the Islamic Republic’s negotiators can cede.

Khamenei’s speech was defiant. It was designed to reassure the regime’s base that Iran’s strategic goals remain unchanged. His speech, in fact, casts a shadow over the Geneva talks.

Khamenei did not mince words:  “We used the term ‘heroic flexibility.’ Some interpreted it as abandoning the ideals and goals of the Islamic regime. Some enemies used this as a pretext to accuse the Islamic regime of retreating from its principles. This was all wrong, all misunderstanding. Heroic flexibility means an artful maneuvering to achieve the desired [goal].”

 Khamenei made no secret of his disdain for the United States, and its “camel-like American vengeance” [kineh-ye shotori]. He launched into a diatribe about America, with topics that included: the ill treatment of the native Americans, slave trade, nuclear bombardment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, downing of an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, helping Saddam Hussein’s regime during the Iran/Iraq war, Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay, the use of drones in Pakistan, and  sanctions against Iran.

The supreme leader capped off his rant by ridiculing American decision makers: “Rather than military threats, go repair your ruined economy, do something so your government is not shut down for fifteen to sixteen days. Go repay your debts and think of bringing order in your economic affairs!” 

The supreme leader’s most vitriolic comments were reserved for France: “Some Europeans unfortunately are sycophantic in front of beings, whom one can hardly call humans. The heads of the Zionist regime are truly like savages. One can’t call them human beings. They [France]… humiliates itself in front of the malevolent and religiously unclean Zionists.”

On a somewhat softer note, Khamenei noted his support for the Rouhani government’s negotiations with the West, but added: “I am stressing the rights of the Iranian nation, including the nuclear rights. We insist that there should not be a single step of retreat when it comes to the rights of the Iranian nation.”

Khamenei’s speech bodes poorly for the deal Western governments may strike in Geneva. If they remain focused on the softer words of Rouhani and foreign minister Javad Zarif, they do so to their own detriment. Ignoring Khamenei’s jarring display of defiance will haunt the West when it is Tehran’s turn to deliver on its promises and implement the Geneva agreement.   

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.