What Khamenei Really Meant…

PHOTO: PressTV.com

PHOTO: PressTV.com

After finally watching the whole speech, and actually understanding the Khamenei’s tone (nervous, not firey), audience (bussed in IRGC, Basij, and pilgrams), and historical precedence (that he usually doesn’t talk about external affairs in this annual speech), my opinion has changed some. While I originally posted that Iran’s reaction to Obama’s Nowruz greeting was the same, I believe now that while some rhetoric is very similar, Khamenei has set the parameters for the debate. We finally got a reaction from the most important person. And while his speech showed a fear and a desire to monopolize the US-Iran bilateral debate within Iran, he has opened the door a crack more, while brilliantly saving Revolutionary face. Here are some quotes and my quick analysis of them:

“They have the slogan of change. Where is the change? What has changed? Clarify this to us. What changed? Has your enmity toward the Iranian nation changed? What signs are there to support this? Have you released the possessions of the Iranian nation? Have you removed the cruel sanctions? Have you stopped the insults, accusations, and negative propaganda against this great nation and its officials? Have you stopped your unconditional support for the Zionist regime? …. We do not have any experience with the new US President and Government. We shall see and judge.”

Contrary to Western media, this is NOT a rebuff. He is making the point that he has no basis to judge Obama’s actions yet. All he has is his expectation of US foreign policy; things he considers terrible and he mentions them, but at this point he is withholding judgment, giving Obama a ‘clean slate’. He mentions just before this that the Iranian public would be offended with the ‘carrot/stick’ dialogue, what he calls “condescending language, arrogant approach, and patronizing moves”, pointing out that the debate in Washington, where tough rhetoric continues to be leading the discourse, cannot represent the hand that is outreached by the US.

“If you change, then we shall change ourselves.”

This is more than just ‘we want to see change’. This is a very clear message, clearer than anything put forth by the regime thus far. That the regime can work with US interests if there are clear strategic goals.

He laid out his main grievances, complaining…

Of Baluchi insurgents. Whether we support them or not Khamenei seems to believe this theory, and claims that they intercepted US communication to these groups
About the MKO (organization that handicapped him) that we still harbor in Iraq
That we accuse Iran of supporting terror
That we continue to accuse Iran of building a nuclear bomb, which he, and all other regime figures, deny absolutely
Of the economic sanctions, boycotts, and frozen assets
Of US support for Israel

These are concrete issues the Republic wants the US to focus on before it perceives the ‘change’ the administration promises. This may look like the typical regime rhetoric, but this time it is a list of Iran’s initial bargaining position, from 1st to last it seems, coming straight from the Supreme Leader. Bargaining positions always have items that seem more complicated initially, and get bartered down as talks are successful. Hearing what exactly the Supreme Leader wants is clearer than the usual rhetoric from the typical ‘talking heads’ that demand concessions.

“Listen to these words. This is my advice to US officials, the President, and others. Listen well to these words, and have them translated for you. Of course, do not give it to the Zionists to translate for you. Consult righteous people, and seek their opinions.”

The Zionist comment is traditional Khamenei rhetoric, but he speaks directly to Obama to contemplate his words only. He makes no calls for US apology for past actions as the executive usually focuses on, his focus is today. He does mention past issues between the two states and no doubt he wants sanctions to be lifted, assets unfrozen, and attempts to undermine the Iranian government ended at some point as a result of talks with the US, but this is a very calculated response, meant to set the tone of possible, although probably minor initially, bilateral engagement on issues of the day.

This speech should be seen as a carefully measured attempt to direct the debate in Washington on how to go about talking with the Islamic Republic and how to get “rational” results from them. Khamenei is aware of the debate in Washington it seems, “I would like to say that I do not know who makes decisions for the United States, the President, the Congress, elements behind the scenes? But I would like to say that we have logic. Since the beginning, the Iranian nation moved with logic. Regarding our vital issues, we are not sentimental. We do not make decisions based on emotion. We make decisions through calculation.”

So what is clashing here is that the Obama administration is using this ‘strategic incentives’ policy, defined by David Brumberg in this small column, that, by using certain incentives to talk, is designed to empathize with a rival’s deep concerns. But the Islamic Republic demands a concrete set of achievable principles. The consistent rhetoric from the regime about ‘change’ has proven this lately. But now Khamenei finally speaks up, and directly to Obama. He is trying to reconcile the fact that the US does not understand what it takes to talk. By laying out the major bargaining principles that Iran is likely to legitimately take to the table Khamenei is setting a strategic vision that the Obama administration can contemplate. ‘Speak softer and we can talk… We’ll wait and see’.

Making swift peace with the US would upset the Revolutionary principles so much that the engagement Khamenei implies would be relatively small, of course, thinking bigger would have broad implications for the regime domestically, regionally, ideologically, etc., therefore this ‘open door’ will be excruciatingly slow. But his talk of the ‘now’ is most certainly not a rebuff.

UPDATE: Juan Cole has the whole speech regarding the US on his blog, as translated by the Open Source Center.

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~ by The Common Man on March 24, 2009.

One Response to “What Khamenei Really Meant…”

  1. hmmm… interesting post.

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