Khamenei Invokes ‘Great Satan’ in Nod to Policy Hardliners

Updated on

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to counter speculation that Iran’s nuclear accord with world powers heralds an era of improved ties with the U.S. and changes in the country’s foreign policy.

Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, told a gathering of citizens that he won’t authorize talks with the U.S. beyond the nuclear program, saying America remains the “Great Satan,” bent on undermining the nation. He also renewed his attacks on Israel, saying the “Zionist regime” won’t exist in 25 years.

While Khamenei backed Iran’s nuclear negotiators in talks with world powers, his remarks are aimed at his conservative supporters unhappy about President Hassan Rouhani’s foreign policy, analysts say. Rouhani, speaking on Tuesday, said Iran is ready to help resolve other crises in the Middle East.

The attacks on Israel and the U.S. are a reiteration of earlier comments, yet the timing can create an opportunity for critics of the deal to question any attempts to mend ties with Iran.

Khamenei “is trying to alleviate concerns of his core constituents who fear that the nuclear deal could be the beginning of a slippery slope of compromises that will eventually unravel the system,” Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said by e-mail. “That it provides ammunition for hardliners in Washington is a secondary consideration.”

Mideast Conflicts

Iran, the U.S. and Sunni-ruled nations such as Saudi Arabia are on opposite ends of some of the region’s bloodiest conflicts. The Islamic Republic supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.

Rouhani said that Iran is willing to hold talks with world powers or countries in the region and “be present at any table” that aims to bring about a stable and democratic Syria, according to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency.

Rouhani has also largely avoided the anti-Israel rhetoric that was a trademark of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Still, the Islamic Republic doesn’t recognize the Jewish state and officials routinely condemn its treatment of the Palestinians, as well as criticizing what they consider unwavering U.S. backing of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on a visit to London that Khamenei’s statement demonstrates his intention to destroy the Jewish state.

“Every responsible nation should cooperate to stop the aggression and terror of Iran, which to my sorrow, is only strengthened by the agreement,” Netanyahu said.

‘Angel of Salvation’

Commenting on Israel, Khamenei said that “God willing in the next 25 years such a thing as the Zionist regime won’t exist.”

Iran and the U.S. haven’t had direct diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the pro-American monarchy.

“Some are insisting in presenting this Great Satan as an angel of salvation,” Khamenei said, according to his website, using the term coined by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founder. “When the Iranian nation kicked this Satan out of the door, we should not allow it to return from the window and gather influence,” he said.

The Supreme Leader’s audience is internal, said Mark Fitzpatrick, a former U.S. diplomat who now runs the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ nuclear disarmament program.

Khamenei is “following a consistent power-balancing strategy,” Fitzpatrick said by e-mail. “Comments about not negotiating with the U.S. on other issues puts him on the side of hardliners and against Rouhani, whose power has been strengthened due to the nuclear accord.”