ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Christian Science Monitor) — Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today gave brief but unprecedented praise to a leader of the United States, welcoming President Obama's effort to cool down war rhetoric in the West surrounding Iran's nuclear program.
“This talk is good talk and shows an exit from illusion,” Ayatollah Khamenei told Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a senior clerical body, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse. “But the US president continued saying that he wants to make the Iranian people kneel through sanctions, this part of this speech shows the continuation of illusion in this issue."
Khamenei's rare and unexpected praise of Mr. Obama may be a first signal of an easing of the paranoia that has gripped the Iranian regime since a popular uprising erupted after elections in 2009. The Islamic Republic proclaimed a “victory” in parliamentary elections last week, declaring an official 64 percent turnout critical to internal security and legitimacy.
Khamenei said that result would boost Iran’s “prestige and security,” and actual belief in such support – despite an opposition boycott and numerous irregularities – may have underpinned his words today.
A snap analysis by the Iran News Now website of Khamenei’s comments said the parliamentary elections “have left Khamenei feeling secure enough to publicly acknowledge Obama’s caution on war talk.”
Khamenei’s praise of Obama is “also a sign that he fears the possibility of an attack, otherwise, it is out of character for Khamenei,” wrote Iran News Now. “Combo of feeling secure internally but insecure externally has led to Khamenei begrudgingly giving a qualified nod to Obama.”
Obama has in recent days sought to dampen war talk from Republican presidential candidates, Congress, and Israeli leaders and their supporters at a 13,000-strong conference of the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby in Washington.
'Not a game'
“This is not a game. There is nothing casual about it,” Obama said on Tuesday, scolding Republicans for “bluster” and “big talk” about launching strikes against Iran to halt Iran’s nuclear efforts. The US president said he believed there remained a “window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.”
Khamenei, meanwhile, has only rarely in recent years commented directly on words or gestures from the United States – which Iran has lambasted as an arch enemy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Initial American gestures in the first months of the Obama administration were cautiously noted by Khamenei, who did not rule out moving toward some kind of détente but couched his response in suspicion that the outstretched American hand was a clenched fist wrapped in velvet.
Not a day has gone by since 1979, Khamenei has often declared, when the US has not sought to undermine the Islamic regime. Chants of “Death to America” still ring out at Friday prayers across the country, and American and Israeli flags are burned and trampled upon during key revolution anniversary dates.
International talks coming
Khamenei’s words today come as both the Iranians and P5+1 group – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany – have signaled that they will resume nuclear talks in coming weeks for the first time in a year.
The board of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna today declared that those talks needed to be “serious” and yield “concrete results,” after two IAEA expert visits to Iran last month failed to make progress on outstanding questions about possible nuclear weapons-related work by Iran.