Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out any renewed talks with the United States at a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials on July 21, saying, “Assuming that holding talks or maintaining relations with America would solve Iran’s problems would be a clear mistake. There is no benefit in holding talks with America.”
Khamenei’s statement flared up the crisis in Iran’s economy as the price of a standard gold coin reached 32 million rials, with a 2 million rial hike within hours. At the same time, the rate of exchange for one euro reached 100,000 rials.
This, however, is not the first time Iran’s leader has blasted the idea of talks with America. It has always been part of his usual anti-American rhetoric except for once, prior to an agreement with the West to limit Iran’s nuclear activity against financial concessions.
The statement by Khamenei reveals a wide gap between the main power center in Iran and the demands of a majority of the country’s population.
On the other hand, it also shows that Iran’s Foreign Ministry is under pressure to justify the supreme leader’s views on foreign policy. This is consistent with the usual practice of imposing the leader’s political and ideological orientation on the majority of Iranians.
Khamenei and other Iranian leaders avoid negotiations and beat the drums of war, believing this is a sign of his authority vis-à-vis a world power.
A few days before Khamenei’s comments, President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff denied that Iran ever wanted to hold talks with the United States, adding, “When Rouhani was in New York for the latest UN General Assembly, President Trump called eight times for negotiations with him, but Rouhani rejected the call.”
This was a new indication that in spite of their claims, Iranian leaders lack the authority and self-confidence for holding talks to solve their most important international problems.
The Islamic Republic’s leadership avoids frank and transparent negotiations with Washington while its allies hold direct talks with America. North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un welcomed direct talks with President Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Trump last week discussing several international crises. However, Khamenei’s approach is different.
“Fighting America” is part of the definition of the Iranian government’s political and ideological system. This also provides justification for their authoritarian rule inside the country and for suppression of Khamenei’s critics.
Khamenei’s non-democratic authority is also linked to some regional policies and projects such as the campaign against Israel and support for the Lebanese Hezballah, as well as military presence in some regional countries. All of these policies have been implemented without the nation voting on them. In the same way, the policy of refusing to hold talks with America has also never been put to vote or public debate.
As far as Khamenei is concerned, holding talks with Washington would put an end to his authority and probably the Islamic Republic.
With the president and parliament members being elected only after vetting by Khamenei’s hard-line aides on the Guardian Council, this means they are not capable of challenging the supreme leader’s views. That is why we don’t hear any alternative views from them.
On the other hand, the Iranian public opinion does not believe in the non-democratic authority of Iran’s leaders as the public’s views are not considered by the leaders.
Although online social networks leave their impact on limitations and political restrictions, they are not effective or powerful enough in comparison with the might of authoritarian rulers.
A majority of Iranians are entangled between the political pressure that is exerted on them by the country’s authoritarian leadership and the economic pressures they feel as a result of sanctions, as well as the hardships caused by mismanagement of the country’s financial resources.
One possible outcome of such pressures might be revolts motivated by economic and social reasons. However, it is not clear whether the final showdown would lead to intensification of authoritarian rule following suppression or could lead to meaningful change in the government’s policies.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Radio Farda or RFE/RL.)