Iran's top ayatollah: We're trumping the West, but beware infighting at home
In a State of the Union-like speech before March elections, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to press on with Iran nuclear program, but warned of internal divisions between conservatives.
Istanbul, Turkey — Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed today that Iran would not "retreat" on its nuclear program, and warned that any military strike "will be 10 times more detrimental to the US" than to Iran.
In a defiant speech delivered at Friday prayers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khamenei portrayed the Islamic Republic as an omnipotent, triumphant regional player whose revolutionary example was the "biggest success in modern history," even as the US and NATO were "becoming weaker and weaker."
He claimed that Iran is the vanguard of an Arab world "Islamic Awakening," which brought down three dictators in the past year, and said Iran would support "any group in the world" fighting Israel.
Coming just days before the 33rd anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Khamenei's near-exultant speech – Iran's annual equivalent of a State of the Union address – elucidated Iran's current worldview as pressure mounts toward conflict. But his declarations of Iranian influence abroad were also counterbalanced by his acknowledgement of "weaknesses" and political division at home.
With parliamentary elections due in one month, Khamenei criticized the "blame game" between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration and other conservative elements of the regime, and lectured: "Unity is the cure to lots of ailments in our country."
Mr. Ahmadinejad sat alongside key rival politicians, clerics, and Revolutionary Guard commanders in the front two rows among thousands of the faithful at Tehran University.
Khamenei hinted at his concern over the upcoming vote – the first since the 2009 presidential election, which sparked weeks of violent street protests that commanders have since acknowledged brought the regime closer to collapse than any other single event.
Khamenei appealed for a high turnout, telling Iranians that this would "immunize" the country against outside threats. "The more turnout, the greater your power will be," he said.
A glimpse into Iran's world view
But that domestic concern was overshadowed by Khamenei's more powerful delivery as he reinforced Iran's longstanding regional policies.
Referring to Israel, the ayatollah said, "The Zionist regime is really the cancerous tumor in this region and it needs to be removed and it will be removed," according to a simultaneous English translation on state-run PressTV.
Khamenei pointed to the Occupy Wall Street movement, "heavy-handed [US] police" treatment, and protests in Europe, as signs of Western decay. He said some experts had compared the West today to the crumbling Soviet Union of the late 1980s, which was "swept away" because it had "no logic."
Khamenei specifically addressed the American policy that "all options are on the table" – including military strikes – regarding Iran's nuclear program.
"Now why is this to the detriment of the US, the threats that they make?" asked Khamenei. "Because making threats shows the weakness of the US in embarking on dialogue.... When it comes to the battle of thoughts and wisdom, they [Americans] cannot conquer ... which means that America has no logic but force [and] bloodshed, that's the only way they find to push their agenda, and this discredits the US further."
Khamenei added: "They should know ... in return for threats of oil embargo and threats of war, we have our own threats, and when the times comes, we will make those threats."
The cleric's words were greeted with chants of "We are ready," and at other times with "death to America" and "death to Israel."
Khamenei urged caution in dealing with the "enemy," though it was not explicit that his words were to be applied to any upcoming nuclear negotiations with US and other world powers.
"We should not fall for the smile on the face of the enemy," Khamenei said. "We have had our experience the last 30 years.... We should not be cheated by their false promises and words, they break their promises very easily ... they feel no shame ... they simply utter lies."
Sanctions push Iran to be self-sufficient – and that's good
Iran's supreme religious leader showed no sign that new sanctions imposed by the US and European Union on Iran's central bank and its economic lifeline of oil exports would turn Iran from its nuclear ambitions, as Western officials say they are designed to do.
UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to stop enriching uranium until it resolves remaining questions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about alleged weapons-related work in the past. Iran says its program aims only to produce nuclear energy.
Sanctions have begun to bite hard. Yet though the economy has shown marked decline in recent months – and the Iranian currency lost half its value since October before beginning to right itself last week – Khamenei said sanctions were beneficial to Iran, by forcing it to be self-sufficient and to set an example to Arab revolutionaries not to fear the West.
One example was the announced launch into space today of another Iranian satellite, just hours before Friday prayers. Ahmadinejad helped launch the homemade satellite – Iran’s third, this one called “Good message of science and industry” – saying he hoped it “will send a signal of more friendship among all human beings.”
"They said they would impose crippling, torturous, painful sanctions on us," said Khamenei. But decades of sanctions had prompted Iran's "great military achievements" these days.
"If they had set up the Bushehr nuclear power plant themselves, then we would not have this progress in enrichment. If they had not closed the gates of science on us, then we would not be progressing on space exploration, and sending satellites into orbit," said Khamenei. "So the more sanctions they impose against us, the more we turn to our own domestic power, skills and youths, and these talents [are] like a spring."
Praise for Arab revolts – except in Syria
Khamenei delivered the second portion of his speech in Arabic, to directly address Arab revolutionaries – and portray Iran as a pan-Islamic supporter of Islamic jihad and people's justice.
He praised the removal of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, but did not mention that NATO airstrikes enabled rebels to topple Col. Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Nor did he once mention Syria, where Iran's closest regional ally, Bashar al-Assad, faces a similar people-power revolt that has left at least 6,000 dead so far.
"The century of Islam has come," said Khomeini, stating that Iran's example in 1979 paved the way by toppling a pro-American, pro-Israeli monarch. He claimed that "anger toward America" had increased 85 percent in Arab countries in the past year.
"The Arab people can no longer put up with the dictators," Khamenei said. "They can no longer put up with agents and spies [of the US and Israel] and tyrants in control. They are sick of this...."
Khamenei said "the revolutions must continue their march," and issued another warning: "Don't trust America and NATO ... they are becoming weaker and weaker very quickly. Their control on the Islamic world was only a result of our fear and our ignorance for 150 years."