Just in case you were wondering how Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei really feels about the nuclear deal for which he has been “noticeably unwilling to claim the credit” (to cite Reuters’ Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Nouri), you may finally have an answer: according to Khamenei’s most recent statement, the agreement is but “a way to infiltrate our country,” a “hollow fantasy” which Iran will, naturally, “confront” with “full power.”
In comments published on Khamenei’s official website Monday, the powerful cleric – Iran’s highest authority – revealed that he intended for the nuclear deal to stay “purely nuclear,” in the words of an Iran expert cited this week by The New York Post, without opening Iran up to outside influences: “We won’t allow American political, economic or cultural influence in Iran.”
What’s really behind this latest evocation of “the spectre of US imperialism” in the region? Are we finally getting a glimpse of Khamenei’s true views? Most analysts this week thought otherwise. On Reuters, Nouri cited Iran’s former culture minister saying Khamenei’s response was “calculated,” making sure not to throw his full weight in with the deal’s supporters, who could face a backlash in Iran if it falls through.
In The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile former Evin prisoner Haleh Esfandiari concurred, writing that though Khamenei has “the last word” on nuclear matters, he wants to retain the support of hardliners and moderates alike – to “satisfy internal clamor” while answering the Iranian public’s hope for a deal putting an end not only to sanctions, but to “the country’s standoff with the West.”
However, Esfandiari also cited an editorial published Saturday in conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan, in which Hossein Shariatmadari – a figure known for his close ties to Khamenei – revealed the leader was “not in any way satisfied with the text.” Shariatmadari insisted that Khamenei “will not permit” the deal’s implementation, even if the Parliament in Tehran approves it. Nevertheless, Esfandiari’s interpretation was less decisive than Shariatmadari’s, concluding that although the deal would violate several of the “red lines” put forth by Khamenei throughout the negotiations, it was “highly unlikely that Iran would ultimately reject the agreement.”
Over at The Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor reached similar conclusions, echoing Esfandiari’s suggestion that although “a majority of ordinary Iranians want the deal to go through,” Khamanei still “wants to preserve his hard-liner bona fides” – via “mixed messages,” which Tharoor predicted we would continue to see a lot of in the coming weeks.
The bottom line? Most commentators thought Khamenei’s misgivings were meant to mirror the enduring uncertainty and indecision over the deal in the West. Some warned it could be a reflection of real disapproval. In any case, he leaves all options open.