Understanding Iran’s supreme leader on the nuclear deal

The Washington Post - April 14, 2015

Eric Lob is an assistant professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University and a former Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center.

Amir Hossein Mahdavi is a research assistant at the Crown Center.

On April 9, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech in response to the framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran that seeks to curtail the latter’s nuclear program. In his speech, Khamenei took a neutral stance on the framework agreement, stating that he “neither agreed nor disagreed because nothing has happened yet.” Khamenei also expressed pessimism over a final deal and reiterated his distrust of the United States. For many outside observers, his comments signaled that the nuclear deal was doomed.

Aside from the possibility that Khamenei may not want to show his hand before a final deal is concluded, what factors explain his rhetorical ambiguity, pessimism and distrust – and should we take him at his word?

The starting point for interpreting Khamenei’s ambiguous intervention is twofold: First, politicians – Khamenei not excluded – often issue statements for public consumption to conceal, yet advance a deeper agenda comprising a number of strategic calculations, personal motivations and policy goals. Second, as in the United States and elsewhere, official rhetoric should not be taken at face value, but rather analyzed through the lens of factional politics. ... Read the Full Text