Obama’s videotaped message to the people and leadership of Iran has generated a response from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has largely dismissed the overture.
Read more about Khamenei’s response from Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner: Reading between the lines of Iran’s response to Obama.
Geneive Abdo, a former journalist based in Iran and now an analyst with the Century Foundation in Washington, joins Martin Savidge to discuss how to interpret Iran’s response, why Khameini issued the response instead of President Ahmedinejad and how Iranian elections and Israel play into the political positioning.
03/24/2009 :: 10:26:22 AM
Khamenei Adopts a Wait and See Attitude to Obama;
“If You Change Your Attitude, We Will Change Ours”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday, “Of course, we have no prior experience of the new president of the American republic and of the government, and therefore we shall make our judgment based on his actions.”
The US corporate media mysteriously interpreted Khamenei’s words as a rebuff to Obama, but in light of the phrase I just quoted, I can’t understand how they reached that conclusion. Certainly, he did say repeatedly that Iran has had a pretty horrible experience with the United States, and that it would take more than some nice words to change Iranian minds about Washington. You could say that this was a grumpy old man response to Obama’s call for engagement. But you can’t call it a rebuff, since Khamenei explicitly says that he has no basis for making a judgment about the Obama administration as yet, and will respond to its actual concrete policies.
Interestingly, the French news agency, Agence France Presse, got the story right, entitling their article, “Iran ready to change if US leads way: Khamenei.”
And, the Iranian PressTV had an even more enthusiastic headline: “Iran vows response to real US change.”
He said that the Iranian public would be offended if anyone addressed it with a discourse of carrots or sticks. That was when he immediately excused Obama from any such charge, saying the latter had a clean slate.
Elsewhere in the address he pledged, in AFP’s translation, “If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”
Iran’s leader pointed out that the name of the US in the world at large is mud because of offensive US policies (he is probably thinking of wars of aggression, torture, etc.). He counsels that the US should change its behavior so that gradually its would gain the esteem of the world.
Khamenei did specify the practical steps the US might take to show it was in earnest.
1. He implied that the US was behind Sunni terrorism against the regime in Iranian Baluchistan near the the Pakistani border (Baluch are Sunnis and tribal and dislike the Persian, Shiite government in Tehran. Some observers have accused the US of fomenting terrorism among such minorities, and Khamenei appears to accept the theory).
2. He implicitly complained about continued US support for and use of the Iranian terrorist group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), whose base in Iraq (given them by Saddam to harass Iran) the US continues to maintain and guard despite the Iraqi government’s desire to close it down and expel the Mojahedin. The US State Department has declared the MEK a terrorist organization, but the Pentagon is said to still deploy its members for covert ops inside Iran. In these two points, which are allusive in the speech, he is essentially accusing the US of being a major sponsor of terrorism.
3. He complained that the US continued to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism.
4. He complained that the US continues to accuse Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb. (Khamenei and all Iranian government officials strongly deny that charge, saying they only have a civilian research program for energy purposes; US intelligence assessments back Khamenei up on all this, but the Washington politicians still routinely speak of taking strong measures stopping Iran from getting the bomb. Khamenei views such talk as a threat of aggression and sees the nuclear issue as a mere pretext for US neo-imperialism. The US dominated Iran during and after WW II and made a pro-monarchy coup in 1953, saddling the country with a megalomaniac shah who was subservient to US interests, until the 1979 Islamic Revolution).
5. He complained of continued US economic sanctions and boycotts.
6. He complained of US support for Israel.
This speech laid out the initial Iranian bargaining position. It has everything but the kitchen sink, and maybe it even has the kitchen sink. It is like in a US department store when the salesman tells you the refrigerator is $1200 but in fact you can bargain him down to $1050.
Khamenei also warned Obama to listen directly to Khamenei’s own words: “Contemplate carefully my words. You must under no circumstances give them to Zionists to translate. Rather, consult with righteous persons.” Well, the crack about Zionists is unfair, but Khamenei is obviously correct that his speech will be distorted by the Neoconservatives who desperately want the US to go to war against Iran.
I hope Obama will in fact get a good translation and analysis of the speech, which is far more welcoming of a potential change in Washington, and shows far more willingness to negotiate, than the corporate media in the US are reporting.
Daniel Brumberg points to Iranian desires for a concrete set of achievable proposals and impatience with a vague “process” of open-ended talks. It should be remembered that the would be a domestic cost for hardliners to pay if they opened to the US, and the cost would be perhaps unbearable if they brought nothing back from the negotiations in the end.
End/ (Not Continued)