Reading Khamenei

New publication by Carnegie scholar Karim Sadjadpour.  Sadjadpour does what no one has done before–write a book based on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s writings and speeches.

Here is the link to video (and transcript) of a talk he gives on the book at the Carnegie Endowment.

Khamenei is the real power in Iran.  He uses Ahmadinejad to create some controversy/tough talk whenever the West threatens more action against the country.

Sadjadpour’s analysis is both in certain more fear-inducing and yet more hopeful (more realistically hopeful) than the media narrative.

He focuses on three issues with Khamenei:  relationship with US, Israel, and the nuclear issue.

1)US=deep, abiding contempt.  Not surprising:  he is still as Sadjadpour points out caught in the fights of the 60s/70s (sound famiilars in US pol contexts).  Khamenei when he was the understudy of Khomenei was imprisoned and tortured multiple times by the Savak, the CIA-trained security services of the Shah.  So the feeling is personal.

The really important point is that Khamenei sees (correctly in my mind) the policy as regime change and no change of external behavior would matter–unless regime change is taken off the table.

2)Israel=Similar deep contempt which Sadjadpour finds in some ways inexplicable.  [This is not the same as Iran is just waiting to bomb Israel the second it gets its hand, if and when, on a nuclear weapon]. For a great book on the Israeli-Iranian relations, cf Trita Parshi’s Treacherous Alliance.  During the time of the Shah of course, Iran and Israel were deeply allied.  Even after The Islamic Revolution, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran and Israel had a backrooom anti-Saddam alliance.

vis a vis Israel, Khamenei would like to see a one-state solution (and not via cleansing of the Israelis) but rather a referendum, which given the larger number of Palestinians, he thinks would come out as to undo the (in Khamenei’s eyes) Zionist regime.  Tehran is the only city in the world essentially where the synaoguges are not protected/bunkered in.  Even here in Vancouver, the Synagogues are all highly gated, securitized.

Sadjadpour sees Khamenei’s anti-Israeli state stance as the biggest roadbloack to US-Iranian relations.

3)Nuclear issue.  Sadjadpour here thinks (as opposed to the other two) that either Khamenei is flat out lying or totally misinformed (which seems impossible).  Khamenei focuses on the themes of self-sufficiency, economic and religious justice, and the nuclear issue hits upon all of those–including the famously easily piqued Iranian self-identity.

Lastly on what to do vis a vis Iran.  Sadjadpour is not naive about how hard negotiations will be.  Unless something were to happen Khamenei, he is the leader for the near future.  Sadjadpour argues that after his death, if the Islamic Republic still holds (which I think is well entrenched at this point), there will be No One single Supreme Leader but a Council.

Attacks on Iran would be a disaster.  Iran’s popluation is still the most pro-American population in the Middle East.  And an attack would be only one of two things that would save Ahmadinejad’s presidency according to Sadjadpour.  The other would be talks BEFORE the Presidential Elections in Iran in June 2009.  So for those who support the talks–as in a Presidential level (e.g. Obama)–only after the elections.

Khamenei does not believe Iran can show any weakneess (sound familiar?) by giving into pressure.  So the regime change has to be off the table.  Deal with Khamenei (forget Ahmadinejad).  And offer carrots and not just sticks and go big or go home (or to war?).  Bury the hatchets, everything on the table.

Khamenei made a speech recently in which he stated, “The day Americans relations prove beneficial to Iran, I will be the first to approve it.”

The deal is to be struck, but not until after Ahmadinejad loses the presidential election.  Which minus the bombing scenario (either US or Israel–the all about certain McCain outcome) and dumbly wading into quickly on diplomacy (the Obama trap), he will lose next year.  Then the iron will be hot as Conservatives and Reformers (as opposed to the Radicals in the Ahmadinejad camp) will align to make a deal and Khamenei has signaled publicly he will back it.  Under the right conditions.

Click the link below for the pdf of Sadjadpour’s thesis (really excellent):sadjadpour_iran_final2

Here is a list of his articles/op-eds on Iran.


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