Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Has Iran’s Supreme Leader changed his tune?

Image Credit: shutterstock

Image Credit: shutterstock

While American diplomats and White House officials are giddy with glee at signs that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is open to negotiation, many also recognize that the president is subordinate to the Supreme Leader in the Islamic Republic. No worries, some analysts say, for the Supreme Leader has embraced jaw-jaw over war-war. “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorses diplomacy over militarism,” announces the Washington Post. “Iran Moves to Mend Ties with the West,” says the New York Times.

But has the Supreme Leader really changed his tune? Over the weekend, the Iranian military held a parade with missiles painted with slogans calling for “Death to America.” No worries: sometimes it takes a little while for the military to get the “Burning flags out, Stars and Stripes in” memo. It’s harder to misinterpret the Friday sermons and Iranian newspapers, however. Why care about sermons? Well, ever since the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic has held weekly public prayer services with prominent officials and religious leaders offering sermons not only in Tehran, but in every provincial capital and major town. These weekly sermons basically serve as the “State of the Union” address, just proffered on a weekly basis to keep the suspense down.

Over at, the American Enterprise Institute’s Will Fulton and Amir Touraj chronicle a number of sermons and commentaries regarding just where the Supreme Leader sits and how Iranians should interpret his talk of “heroic flexibility”:

  • National Security and Foreign Policy Parliamentary Commission member Mohammad Saleh Jokar explained: “This matter will never lead to surrender and compromise. Heroic flexibility means insisting upon principles and resistance in the path of defending the given rights of the Iranian nation… In heroic flexibility, the strategy is the same as the system’s broader strategy, but the tactics differ.
  • Akbar Torkan, an advisor to Rouhani, explained, “Heroic flexibility does not mean retreating against the enemy, but rather achieving the system’s interest by relying on principles and values.”
  • Mashhad Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Alam ol-Hoda stated, “We must enter the field flexing at the enemy from a position of strength and smiling diplomatically.”
  • Isfahan Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Yousef Tabatabaei-Nezhad stated,“Heroic flexibility is not retreating from the country’s Islamic strength, rather it is a harbinger of victory.”

Someone needs to tell the White House spin room that the Iranians are off-message. Never mind, let’s not let reality get in the way of enthusiasm for diplomacy.

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