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Khamenei Focuses On Domestic Issues In Speech, Mostly Avoiding Foreign Policy

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani attend a cabinet meeting in Tehran, August 21, 2019
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani attend a cabinet meeting in Tehran, August 21, 2019

In a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet, Iran's Supreme leader generally focused on domestic problems and generally avoided major foreign policy issues, such as tensions with the United States or relations with Europe.

Khamenei said the economy and culture are the two most important problems Rouhani’s administration needs to address.

Speaking during a meeting with Rouhani, his cabinet ministers and the head of Iran's state TV on August 21, Khamenei offered his own solutions for the two “problems”.

The absence of customary sharp attacks against the U.S. and its allies in his address was noteworthy, but hard to explain. Khamenei also did not address recent domestic scandals and open warfare among some of his staunchest allies.

In the area of economy, Khamenei called on the administration to pay more attention to domestic production as "the key to solving the country's problems."

As U.S. sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, Khamenei has repeatedly emphasized “resistance economy” and relying on internal forces.

He also advised the administration to rid the country of its dependence on oil revenues as its main source of income, although he did not say exactly how to replace oil revenues with other income, when the economic system nurtured under his leadership for 30 years is not conducive to real competition and foreign investments.

Returning to his usual jargon, Khamenei demanded a "change in attitudes toward producers as the "combatants of the economic war." By economic war, Khamenei means U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Despite a bankrupt economy, high inflation and unemployment, Khamenei said that the next 40 years of the Islamic republic will be better than the first.

He also demanded a "move toward economic progress as a means of restoring justice and eliminating poverty," apparently mindless of the fact the wealthy foundations under the aegis of his office as well as the Revolutionary Guards control at least 20 percent of Iran’s economy leaving little room for private sector producers and manufacturers to grow.

The monopolistic hold of these state-supported entities is based on preferential treatment that allocates most of the country's resources to regime insiders.

But during Khamenei's meeting with the cabinet, Rouhani sounded more belligerent on foreign policy, threatening that if Iran cannot export oil, security in the Persian Gulf cannot be guaranteed.

In the area of culture, Khamenei called on the Rouhani administration to "open up the cultural atmosphere." This comes while the Iranian Judiciary, which operates under Khamenei, and the Culture Ministry, a part of the Rouhani administration have been creating the biggest obstacles for cultural activities.

Only two weeks ago, activists revealed that Ministry of Culture has given close to a million dollars to a private company set up by regime insiders to scrutinize all the books published in Iran and carry out censorship on behalf of the Ministry.

When criticized for outsourcing censorship to private companies, a Ministry official told the press at the time that censorship was a key responsibility of the administration.

While asking the government to open up the cultural atmosphere, Khamenei demanded "serious and intelligent confrontation" with the “infiltration of the enemy” and “cultural onslaught against religious, revolutionary and ethical principles."

Translating Khamenei's official jargon into plain language, this means calling for spending even more money to jam TV signals from abroad and blocking access to social media while also controlling the media inside Iran by censorship and intimidation.

Iran is one of the biggest jailers of journalists and has been often condemned by international media freedom watchdogs, such as Reporters Without Frontiers for arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of journalists and social media activists.

Khamenei charged that during recent years, Iranian administrations were plagued by controversies that have left little time for officials to follow priorities. However, he did not say that most of these "controversies" were the outcome of widespread and uncontrolled financial corruption in state bodies, including the all-powerful Judiciary.

Khamenei himself has criticized both the administration and the Judiciary for mismanagement, inefficiency and financial corruption in 2018.

Khamenei noted that the Rouhani administration has still two more years "to serve the nation," and called on state officials to prioritize the problems they need to tackle, as these problems are affecting low-income segment of the population.

Khamenei stressed that easy access to oil revenue has caused long-lasting problems for Iran and hindered its progress. He said: Even when there are no sanctions, still Western powers control the market through pricing and limiting purchases in order to influence oil producers by exerting pressures on them.

Khamenei's remarks about the reasons of Iran's economic problems goes against attestation by Iranian and foreign economists that have attributed Iran's current economic crisis to hefty military spending and wasting financial resources in proxy wars in the region, as well as mismanagement, corruption, and the impact of sanctions which are in a way the outcome of Khamenei's foreign policy.