Khamenei: Even if we give nuclear concessions, US sanctions will continue

In a recent visit to Bojnourd, North Khorasan province, Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei

gave an important speech in which he highlighted potentially key aspects of the Islamic Republic’s thinking on economic sanctions, the currency crisis, and its domestic factional politics.

Economic sanctions will not end with the resolution of the nuclear crisis

In his speech, Khamenei asserted that the intense economic sanctions against Iran were not simply over the country’s nuclear program, but because of United States’ enmity toward the Islamic Republic:

“Our enemies pretend that if the Iranian nation backs down from nuclear energy, sanctions will be lifted. They lie. The sanctions are because of their hatred [for us]…They are implementing irrational sanctions…These are irrational and brutal actions, this is with a nation.”

This statement appeared to in part be a response to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s recent comments that sanctions could be quickly eased if Iran addressed international concerns over its nuclear program. Scoffing at this notion, Khamenei responded that Iran had been sanctioned for 33 years and that this had only made the country stronger.

Khamenei also criticized European Union countries for supporting American sanctions. He said that Iran had bad memories of England and for this reason called that country “evil England”, but that this was not Iran’s feeling toward other European countries. However Khamenei noted that their cooperation with the US on sanctions and other issues meant that these European countries were becoming hated in the eyes of the Iranian people.

Currency crisis, intra-factional fighting and the Tehran Grand Bazaar protests

Khamenei also touched on a number of crucial domestic issues in his Bojnourd speech. He declared that the Iranian people were rightly concerned with economic issues such as inflation and unemployment. However maintained that senior officials were doing their best to resolve these issues for the people.

Turning to the acrimonious debates surrounding Iran’s plummeting currency within the Principalist faction, Khamenei called for greater unity, saying in part: “Officials should not throw the blame around each other’s necks, and respect the limits of the constitution.”

Editor’s note: Khamenei’s cynicism about the US willingness to lift sanctions has been echoed in other parts of the Iranian media. In a recent article Kayhan, a daily newspaper closely tied to the supreme leader, cited an article in the Huffington Post which raised similar questions. Kayhan’s conclusion, and the consensus that is slowly emerging among Iranian hardliners, is that even if the nuclear issue is resolved the US will find another pretext, such as human rights, to keep sanctions in place. In speaking directly to Europeans, Khamenei may hope to create wedges in the Euro-American relationship.

On the domestic front, Khamenei’s call for patience and unity continues a line he has taken for some time now to attempt to paper-over differences between Traditional and Neo-Principalists. However, in the conflict between these two branches of the Principalist faction, Khamenei may be leaning toward the latter.

After the recent Tehran Grand Bazaar protests many Neo-Principalists, hardliners associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), denied that protesters had actually been bazaar merchants and workers. However Traditional Principalists, such as Habibollah Asghar-Owladi, have maintained that protesters were in fact disgruntled bazaaris. This is significant because the bazaar has historically formed a key pillar of support for the regime. By denying that Tehran’s bazaaris have been at the center of the recent demonstrations, regime hardliners (including supreme leader Khamenei) are sending a not so subtle message that opposition from the bazaar, and by extension Traditional Principalists, will not be tolerated and that.

This may in turn help us better understand the possible dynamics of the upcoming 2013 Iranian presidential election. Rather than backing a more well-established Traditionalist Principalist or moderate figure like Ali Larijani, could the regime’s increasingly hardline core, including Khamenei and the IRGC, support a less well-known hard line Neo-Principalist figure, as they did with current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005?