Khamenei rallies Basij commanders on the first day of the Third Geneva Talks

Yesterday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke to a meeting of 50,000 Basij commander from across Iran in commemoration of the end of Muharram, the ten days of mourning marking the martyrdom of the Shi’a holy figure Imam Hossein. The speech appeared aimed at rallying his conservative domestic base by insisting that Iran would not retreat when it came to its nuclear rights and portraying the West as brutal and hypocritical.

Khamenei used the example of Zeinab, daughter of Imam Ali, and her brother Imam Hossein, Shi’a icons of resistance, to illustrate Iran’s situation today in nuclear negotiations. He stated that retreat “is forbidden from the perspective of Islam and the Quran” and that the Quran entreated Muslims to face their enemies with all of their strength. With this background, he clarified his concept of “heroic flexibility”:

“We used the terminology of ‘heroic flexibility’; some interpreted this to mean retreating from the ideals and goals of the Islamic regime; some of our enemies have used this as an instrument for accusing the Islamic regime of retreating from its own principles; this was wrong, this was a misunderstanding. Heroic flexibility means a masterful maneuver for achieving the goal.”

He argued that in order for Iran to reach its goals, “we must use different methods,” and using the analogy of the battlefield, he said that this meant that Iran could both advance and retreat (i.e. show resistance and flexibility) to reach its goals.

He said that the fact that Iran sometimes pursued its goals by moving forward did not mean that Iranians were war-mongers. Rather, he maintained that these were the words of Iran’s enemies, particularly coming “…from the wretched, filthy mouth of the rabid dog of the region, the Zionist regime.” Khamenei insisted that Iran did not have a problem with any of the peoples of the world, including the American people, but rather with the “arrogant” international regime.

Khamenei characterized the “arrogant regime”, which appears to include most if not all of the countries of the West including Israel, as brutal (placing little value on human life) and hypocritical, systematically recounting its alleged crimes including: Colonialism and the eradication of the indigenous peoples of North America and Australia, slavery in Africa (he cited Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family), the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which he labelled as militarily unnecessary), the support of the West for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), even as Iraq was using chemical weapons on Iranian troops, and the downing of an Iranian passenger plane (killing 290 people) by the United States Navy in 1988.

Coming to the nuclear negotiations specifically, Khamenei expressed the dilemma he faced to his audience: “First, I insist on supporting our officials who are responsible, I support all [Iranian] administrations…[this is] our duty…they need help, and I help them, support them; this is one side of the issue which is certain.”

“On the other hand I insist on establishing the Iranian nation’s rights, including on the issue of nuclear rights; We insist that not a single step back should be taken from the Iranian nation’s rights. However, we do not interfere in the details of the negotiations; there is a red-line, there are limitations, this limit must be respected; we said this to the [Iranian negotiating] officials and [they] are duty-bound to respect these limitations; they should not fear the heckling of the enemies and opponents and should not let themselves be intimidated.”

One of the main question is why Khamenei has made such a strong speech, which uses very strong language and is condemnatory of the West and Israel, on the first day of the Third Geneva Talks. One answer could be that that it is not intended for consumption by a foreign audience, but rather a domestic one: His conservative base. But to what end? Could he be preparing them for a negotiated settlement to the nuclear saga which some in his own camp may find too hard to swallow?

More on this and the first two days of negotiations soon as IranPolitik reports live from Geneva.