The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (seated) looks out before a massive rally of enthusiastic Basij commanders. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander, General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari, stands to the left of Khamenei
Annually, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meets with large rallies of Basij (government sponsored volunteer fighters) and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fighters. At those rallies, Khamenei usually makes an impassioned speech in recognition of the fighter’s devotion to God, their dedication to the revolution, and their commitment to Holy Defense and conveys his appreciation for their allegiance to him. Khamenei also has the opportunity to become energized by looking out at the nearly endless rows of fighters, see the revolutionary zeal and patriotic fervor in their eyes. Through their emotional expressions and responses to his speeches, the Basij and IRGC fighters convey to Khamenei that they would be ready at any moment to sacrifice themselves in Iran’s defense.
Among the issues Khamenei discussed in a speech before the audience of Basij commanders in the picture above were the concept of heroic flexibility, US policy, the Geneva talks, and the nuclear program. On heroic flexibility, Khamenei approved of the IRGC’s explanation of his concept. He rejected the notion expressed by some media spokesmen that heroic flexibility meant retreat. Khamenei then defined heroic flexibility as “an artificial maneuver and utilizing various methods to achieve various goals and ideals of the Islamic system.” Interestingly, that seems to imply heroic flexibility is a deception.
On US relations, Khamenei explained “This Islamic system does not even have hostility with the American nation, even though the American government is arrogant, hostile, and hateful towards the Iranian nation and the Islamic system.” This is a less gentle phrasing of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s comment at the University of Virginia on February 20, 2013, that “One of America’s most incredible realities continues to be that we are a country without any permanent enemies.” Yet, clearly Khamenei and his government’s animus toward the US remains considerable. Khamenei asserted that the struggle against the US and Western powers was an historic and Koranic mission. He declared “What is at the opposite side of the Islamic system and what the Islamic system opposes is ‘Arrogance’ (which is a term Khamenei uses to refer to the US).” He reminded the Basij commanders that “The great Iranian nation and the chosen system of his nation fundamentally took shape and grew in protest to Arrogance and its causes. Therefore, with attention to the aforementioned characteristics, Arrogance is fundamentally unable to tolerate this system other than becoming hopeless of defeating it.” Khamenei apears to be expressing the view that concessions and compromise by the Obama administration was expected given its inability to defeat Iran. Moreover, there exists a belief in Tehran that US President Barack Obama wants to avoid using US military force against Iran at nearly any cost. Obama wanted a deal; an historic agreement. The decision of the White House to use back channels and secret talks to reach that agreement despite engaging with Britain, France Germany, Russia, and China in multiparty negotiations with Iran and the concessions made on economic sanctions levied by the US Congress have somewhat substantiated that notion that the US was desperate.
As for the Geneva nuclear negotiations, Khamenei, in his most powerful statement of the day, declared that while he did not intend to invest himself into the talks, he rejected any notion of retreat. He made it clear that the negotiators had no right to retreat even one step from Iran’s red lines. In his own words, “I have emphasized the rights of the Iranian nation, including its nuclear rights, and I must insist there not be even one step of retreat from the national rights of Iran.”
Make no mistake, that in Geneva, from Khamenei’s perspective, what is being negotiated over is economic sanctions relief, not Iran’s nuclear program. Based on these statement by Khamenei (translated by Will Fulton, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute) before the Basij commanders, optimism over eventually dismantling or even shutting down Iran’s nuclear program may very well be misplaced. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, before being elected, shared his view of the thinking behind Iranian relations with the US. In one of his books on foreign policy, Rouhani writes that modernity has failed, and that Christians in the West gave in to secularism without a fight. He writes further that the US and the Islamic Republic are in permanent conflict. Some policy analysts and other observers have said the US and Iran have turned the page and begun a new chapter. While the Obama administration got the historic agreement it sought with Iran, it is not clear as yet that the agreement constructed was truly the best one that could be reached or one that will be sustainable. As far as Khamenei, the IRGC, and the Basij commanders such as those pictured above are concerned, the Geneva accord will only impact Iran’s nuclear program, or will be sustainable, if they want that to be so.