Iran’s Supreme Leader Still Distrusts America

For the last week or two, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been tweeting against the United States and getting a certain amount of attention to his more negative tweets.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has arrested reporters and has increased the charges against already jailed and convicted Jason Rezaian, a reporter from the Washington Post. Cyberattacks apparently originating in Iran have increased.

This activity seems to be a reaction to the nuclear agreement by hardliners. Iran began disassembling its centrifuges this week, which some in Iran had insisted never take place. President Rouhani condemned the arrests and continues to criticize the IRGC.

Anti-American demonstrations have increased, too. The anniversary of the takeover of the American Embassy has just passed, and elections are coming up. The nuclear agreement has been concluded, so it’s time for the other side to have its say.

Or that is probably what the Supreme Leader is thinking. Watching his tweetstream (@khamanei_ir) sometimes feels like hearing from a crabby elderly relative, but a person in his position has to be an astute politician. He also has a revolution to uphold.

All this has occasioned “I told you so” from some Americans who were opposed to the nuclear agreement. “No change in Iran,” they say. Most commentators on the agreement emphasized all along that it was not about changing Iran’s behavior beyond its nuclear program. Many of us expressed hope that it would eventually – eventually! – result in more moderate attitudes in Iran. We have just passed Adoption Day, when everything starts into motion. The US and EU are preparing waivers to lift sanctions, and Iran has begun disassembling equipment. Full implementation is still in the future. So it seems a little premature to expect major changes in Iran’s internal politics.

Even so, as I scroll through Khamenei tweets, I find this:

A number of Iranians have recently said that “Death to America” doesn’t really mean that. The demonstrations and chants seem to appeal less and less to younger Iranians. It would be a great improvement if those chants stopped, but that probably won’t happen in this Supreme Leader’s lifetime.

One of the hardliners’ concerns seems to be America’s cultural influence. A KFC restaurant was closed down shortly after it opened, and recent chants and statements have emphasized that degenerate American businesses and culture are a danger to the Islamic Republic. Russia too is wary about American cultural influence, and so was France at one time.

Iran is now a part of the multinational talks on ending the war in Syria, but Iranian officials have ruled out bilateral talks with the United States.

The recent anti-American outbursts and violations of human rights standards remind us that Iran’s government is not like Western governments. That must be kept in mind as the search for peace in Syria proceeds.

Iran has stuck to its preliminary nuclear agreement and so far is complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is something to keep in mind too.

Diplomacy seldom results in rapid and showy turnarounds in national behavior. Neither have recent wars. Here are a couple of articles about diplomats and diplomacy, on the reunification of Germany in 1990 and on Bill Burns, who laid the groundwork for the Iran agreement.

Photo of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from Christian Science Monitor and AP.

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