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Khamenei’s heightened anti-Americanism and criticism of Rowhani

Khamenei’s harsh criticisms of the US government seemed contradictory, but were well-crafted

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who previously gave his blessing to Rowhani’s nuclear team and congratulated them for reaching a nuclear deal with the P5+1, is now turning the trend around. Khamenei’s latest speech significantly contradicted that of Rowhani. Rowhani told the Iranian people that “I am hopeful and I am certain that with cooperation and domestic efforts and constructive engagement with the world, we can follow the path of prosperity, work and growth in economic activity.”

In his hometown of Mashahad, where Khamenei gives a speech every year on the Persian new year, he heavily criticized President Rowhani, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and he explained that how the United States remains the preeminent enemy of the Islamic Republic.

“When I say the enemy, I mean the US government”

Khamenei’s harsh criticisms of the US government seemed contradictory, but were well-crafted. On the one hand, he seemed agitated that the US department of Treasury was using intimidation tactics on other banks and countries for dealing with the Islamic Republic.

He believes that the US is not allowing Iran to fully engage in business with Western countries and reach its economic potential. He demonstrates that the removal of sanctions are superficial to him, even though Tehran has received billions of dollars and all major UNSC sanctions against Iran have been lifted.

On the other hand, Khamenei’s message that Iran’s economy should be self-sufficient indicates that he clearly does not desire the Islamic Republic to fully join the global economy. He fears that forces of globalization will endanger the tight grip of his office on the political and economic life of Iran.

In addition, Khamenei also warned the Iranian youths not to be trapped by President Obama and the White House’s last week message to the Iranians. He argued that Obama’s latest message and the White House creation of a haft-sin sofreh [the traditional Nowruz food] were methods to deceive the Iranian youth.

By criticizing Rowhani, Zarif, and the US, Khamenei seems to be preparing the platform to pull out of the nuclear agreement after sanctions have been lifted

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

When it comes to Khamenei’s view on Rowhani, one of his main concerns was the increasing rapprochement between Rowhani’s government and President Obama’s administration. From Khamenei’s perspective, the US is using the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA) to further cooperate with Iran on other regional issues causing the Islamic Republic to lose its revolutionary ideals by getting closer to Washington.

In addition, Khamenei tactfully criticized Rowhani for not delivering on his promises and for suggesting that if the sanctions were to be lifted, Iran’s economy will improve. He also criticized Rowhani’s team for telling the government before the nuclear deal that if the sanctions were not lifted, Iran would have faced a dangerous path. Khamenei argues that nothing would have happened to Iran if sanctions were not lifted.

Khamenei’s shrewd tactics

Khamenei has several tactics with his recent lashing out at Rowhani’s and Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif and the United States. The fact is that if it was not for Khamenei’s blessing, Rowhani would have not been capable of continuing with the negotiations and reaching the nuclear deal. Even before Rowhani came to power, Khamenei and senior cadre of IRGC were preparing the platform for a nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, in order to preserve his power, Khamenei has always attempted to switch between the moderates and hardliners publicly or behind the doors. While in public he shows his support for the hardliners, in private he gives the green light to the moderates.

In Mashhad, where a significant amount of the hardline clerics reside, Khamenei sends a message that he continues to respect the Islamic Republic’s ideological principles of opposing the United States and preventing rapprochement between Tehran and the “Great Satan”.
In addition, not only does he assure his hardline social base in the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij and the army that he is on their side rather than on the side of moderates, but also he is empowering them to begin controlling the moderates and more freely criticizing Rowhani’s team.

Third, whenever a president gains popularity, Khamenei attempts to curb the president by empowering hardliners.

Fourth, Khamenei’s modus of operandi is to avoid any situation that holds him accountable for major issues. On the one hand he gives license to and instructs Rowhani to make a deal, on the other hand he tells the public that this is not what he wanted. Therefore, if Iran pulls out of the nuclear deal or people do not see the fruit of the sanctions relief, they would point fingers to Rowhani.

Finally, by criticizing Rowhani, Zarif, and the US, Khamenei seems to be preparing the platform to pull out of the nuclear agreement after sanctions have been lifted.
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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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