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memri
April 1, 2009 No.
2297

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's New Year's Speech and Reactions to President Obama's Message

In his speech in Mashhad on the occasion of the Iranian New Year (Norouz), Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei touched on several issues that will occupy the Iranian people in the coming year, including the economic difficulties and the 2009 presidential elections. He also spoke at length about Iran-U.S. relations, and notably referred to the U.S. by its name, instead of calling it "the Global Arrogance," the term usually used by the spokesmen of the Iranian regime. At the same time, he made the usual critical and hostile remarks about the U.S., and elicited cries of "death to America" from the audience.

Referring to President Obama's New Year’s greeting, Khamenei said that it was not sincere, since even while greeting Iran Obama still accused it of sponsoring terrorism and of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. It should be noted that due to the two-week New Year vacation in Iran, only two other senior officials responded to Obama's greeting, namely Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's advisor Ali AkbarJavanfekr. Ahmadinejad has not yet personally responded to it.

Following are excerpts from Khamenei's speech, [1] and from several Iranian reactions to Obama's greeting.

On ‘Correcting Iran's Consumption Patterns’

Khamenei labeled the coming year as the "Improved Consumption Patterns Year," and called to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the poor in Iran, describing this task as "difficult but possible." He also called to fight the social and economic corruption in Iran, stating that a social model based on justice requires leaders who have vision and are faithful, courageous, and pure-hearted. He stressed that correcting the individual and collective consumption patterns of the Iranians would be a real step towards progress and justice, adding: "In light of the willingness and the sound foundation that [already] exists, the great and dear Iranian nation will turn the fourth decade of the [Islamic] Revolution [regime] into a great step and a significant leap [forward] in the journey towards realizing its original ideal of 'progress and justice.'" According to Khamenei, "the disease of wastefulness" creates economic, social, and cultural problems in [Iran] and threatens its future. He also spoke at length about the lack of balance between production and consumption in the country, stating, for example, that one third of the bread and one fifth of the water in Iran go to waste. The authorities, he said, must take practical steps to remedy this problem.

On the 2009 Presidential Elections

Khamenei stated that elections are one of the central pillars of the Iranian regime, saying, "The religious democracy [of Iran] is not founded upon words alone, but upon worthy [leaders] and upon a rational and emotional connection between the people and the development of the state. This goal will only be achieved through robust and correctly-run elections with good voter turnout." Khamenei added that elections are a means to strengthen the nation, not a means to seize power. He warned the candidates that every word they say could be exploited by the enemies to harm Iran, advising them to keep their criticism of the other candidates fair. Over the last 30 years, he said, the leaders of Iran have kept the elections clean.

Khamenei acknowledged that rumors have been circulating as to which presidential candidate he endorses, but stressed that he has only one vote, and that he would not endorse a specific candidate because the people must vote according to their own conscience. "Sometimes I defend the government," he explained, "and people misinterpret [my position]. It is my duty to defend the governments that serve the nation, stand up to the [Global] Arrogance and are subjected to unfair criticism - [but] that does not mean that [1] take a stand in the elections."

On Renewing Dialogue with the U.S.

Khamenei stressed that ever since the Islamic Revolution, confronting the U.S. and managing the relations with it have been a great trial for the Iranian nation and regime. He added that the U.S. leaders, both Democrat and Republican, have exhibited extreme hostility towards Iran, and that they are behind the separatists and "terror organizations" operating in the Iran-Pakistan border region.

Khamenei condemned the U.S. for freezing billions of Iranian dollars and seizing Iranian assets and merchandise; for its support of Saddam Hussein's attack on Iran and its ongoing aid to the Iraqi Ba'th regime throughout the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, in which 300,000 Iranian youths lost their lives; and for downing of the Iranian passenger plane in 1988.

The Iranian Supreme Leader stated that Washington's hostility towards Iran is clear from its actions in the last 30 years - namely, the sanctions against the Iranian nation, Washington's support for the "criminal terrorists that have carried out many assassinations in Iran;" its unreserved and unconditional support of the "Zionist criminals;" its creation of tension in the region; and its repeated threats to launch a military attack on Iran. He added: "In the last 30 years, American leaders have repeatedly insulted the Iranian nation and leaders, and some of them have even wished to exterminate the great and honorable Iranian nation."

About the overtures made by the new U.S. administration, Khamenei said: "[The U.S.] is saying: 'We are extending our hand to Iran.' Well, what kind of hand are they extending? If they are extending an iron fist concealed in a velvet glove, then it has no positive meaning. They greet the Iranian people on its holiday, but in those very greetings, they accuse the Iranian people of supporting terror, of pursuing nuclear weapons, and so on. Let me say that I do not know who the decision makers in the U.S. are - the President, Congress, or some people behind the scenes. But let me say that the Iranian people has acted with logic from day one. We do not act emotionally with regard to the issues important to us. We make decisions on the basis of reason, rather than emotions."

About the U.S.-Iran talks and President Barack Obama's promise of change, Khamenei said: "Well, where is this change? What has changed? Make it clear to us - what has changed? Has your hostility to the Iranian people changed? Where is the sign of that? Have you released the Iranian assets? Have you lifted the unjust sanctions? Have you stopped the mud-slinging, the accusations, and the propaganda against this great nation and its leaders, who rose from among the people? Have you stopped your unconditional defense of the Zionist regime? What has changed? They use the slogan of change, but in fact, there is no evidence of change. We have not seen any change. Not even the discourse has changed. The new American president, from the very first moment - when he entered office and made his [inauguration] speech - insulted Iran and the government of the Islamic Republic. Why? If you are right, and there really is change - where is this change? Why can't we see anything? I say this to everyone. The American officials and other people should know that it is impossible to deceive or intimidate the Iranian people."

Khamenei said further that change is something that the U.S. itself needs, because if it does not change, "the divine law and the world will change [it]." "Listen to these words," he added. "My advice to the American officials - to the president and to the others - is to think carefully about these things. Give it to someone to translate it for you - but don’t give it to the Zionists to translate... As long as the U.S. government continues to conduct its actions and its policies against us as it has done for the past 30 years, we will [also] be the same people we have been in these 30 years, gaining strength and experience from day to day… for our nation hates to be addressed in [the language of] threats and enticements… We will judge the new American president by the outcome of his actions." [2]

Other Reactions to President Obama's New Year’s Greeting

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Motakki issued a brief and formal, though cordial, response: "We are glad that Norouz has been a source for friendship, and we are pleased that the message of Norouz is one of coexistence, peace, and friendship for the entire world." [3]

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, advisor to Iranian President Ahmadinejad, said that he welcomed Obama's offer to put aside the past disagreements, but that Iran also expected to see concrete steps on Obama's part that would indicate a real change in the U.S. policy towards Iran. [4]

An editorial on the Iranian website Asr-e Iran (www.asriran.com ) stated that Obama's message did reflect a change in Washington's attitude towards Iran, especially in light of the following: For the first time, no distinction was made between the Iranian nation and the Iranian regime; Obama acknowledged the Islamic Republic of Iran and its place in the world, in contrast to the previous U.S. administrations, which wanted to change the regime in Iran; though Obama criticized Iran as a sponsor of terrorism and as a country seeking nuclear weapons, this criticism was muted and indirect; Obama deviated from the usual custom by saying "happy New Year" to the Iranians in their own tongue.

The editorial argued, however, that this change was not sufficient, and that two conditions had to be met before dialogue with the U.S. could commence: the sanctions on Iran had to be lifted and its assets unfrozen. It is unfortunate, the editorial said, that Obama is taking steps to extend the third-party sanctions against Iran by another year and to increase the Security Council sanctions. The site concluded that the opportunity must be taken to improve the relations between the two countries. [5]

The reformist Iranian website www.khandaniha.eu, which operates from outside the country, rebuked Obama for identifying the Iranians with the Iranian regime. [6]

Endnotes:

[1] For excerpts from Khamenei's speech, see MEMRI-TV Clip No. 2059, http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/2059.

[2] http://www.leader.ir, March 21, 2009.

[3] IRNA, March 21, 2009.

[4] Tabnak (Iran), March 20, 2009.

[5] www.asriran.com, IRINN TV, March 21, 2009.

[6] www.khandaniha.eu, March 21, 2009.