By Hooshang Amirahmadi
Each year, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, gives his most important speech on the Iranian New Year (March 21, 2013) in the Holy City of Mashhad. This year, the Ayatollah’s speech was structured around three themes, namely the state of the Republic in 1391 (the Iranian calendar year that just passed), US-Iran relations, and the presidential election in June of this year.
On the state of the Republic, the Supreme Leader made a point to underscore Iran’s infrastructural, scientific, defense and other achievements in 1391 and went on to say that these achievements were attained despite American sanctions. While acknowledging that the sanctions have had a negative impact on Iran, he said they have failed in their main objective of changing the regime or even forcing the Islamic Republic to accept American conditions.
On US-Iran relations, the Ayatollah spoke with utmost transparency. He said, “the United States is the main enemy of the Islamic Republic and the center of conspiracy against Iran.” Of Iran’s other enemies, he singled out Britain, which he dismissed as a follower of the US. He also mentioned France, saying while the Islamic Republic has no animosity toward France, the French government beginning with Nicolas Sarkozy has been inimical towards Iran.
On Israel, the Supreme Leader was most indirect. He said the occupier Zionist regime is too small and unimportant to be even considered an enemy—meaning it is not? Referring to threats of war by the Israeli leaders, the Ayatollah said that if they were to commit such a wrongdoing, meaning attacking Iran, the Islamic Republic will destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa. It must be noted that the Supreme Leader’s statement suggests a response to an Israeli attack rather than a preemptive Iranian attack.
Returning to the US, the Supreme Leader said that it has no trust in the American leaders saying that they want a negotiated settlement of disputes including the nuclear issue. He said the solution to the nuclear issue is simple: the US must accept Iran’s right to uranium enrichment within the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and Iran will oblige itself to intrusive inspections including the implementation of the Additional Protocol.
Most significantly, the Ayatollah said, while he is not optimistic about the American offer of direct negotiations in good faith, he has no objection to such direct negotiations. This was the first time ever that the Supreme Leader has so directly and openly approved direct negotiation with the US. However, he repeatedly warned that the American tactic of pressure with negotiation will produce no results. The Supreme Leader, instead, proposes that the US stop animosity both in words and in action.
On the presidential election, the Ayatollah stressed the fact that the election is a symbol of the Republic’s legitimacy and the people’s sovereignty, and that popular participation is a must for national security. The Supreme Leader emphatically said that it is essential that all political orientations and factions who believe in the Islamic system participate in the election and that the election cannot be a monopoly of any orientation or faction.
Most significantly, the Ayatollah said that the election belongs to anyone who has “a heart for national interests and independence”. Echoing the words of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding leader of the Islamic Republic, who famously said, “votes of the people are the measure of elections,” the Ayatollah reminded the nation that the votes of the Iranian people are the final determinant of the election and that they are the only judge for who is most suitable to represent them.
Speaking about the qualifications of the next president, the Supreme Leader said that the president must have faith in the Islamic Revolution and the nation’s values, be committed to the national interest, and believe in administrating the country on the basis of collective wisdom and knowledge. He also emphasized that the people are the only authority that can, through their own research, find trusted candidates and elect as president the one most suitable.
In sum, the speech by the Supreme Leader sets new directions for the country in two most important areas: relations with the US and the upcoming presidential election. Specifically, he allowed for the first time, direct negotiations with the US, and made it clear that the Iranian people are the ultimate authority on who should stand for vote and be elected as their next President. To implement these breakthrough ideas, Iranians must now ask for concrete actions to follow.
This article is part of Insider & Insight, a new AIC program aimed at providing different perspectives and analyses on key developments in US-Iran relations. The commentary and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of American Iranian Council.