May 15, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 837

Khamenei's Aim at the Nuclear Talks – Securing the Survival of His Regime

May 15, 2012 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 837


Although the fatwa of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on nuclear weapons does not exist (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 825, "Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei," April 19, 2012, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei), the Iranian propaganda machine continues to mislead the West on this issue; in fact, former French premier Michel Rocard, who was in Tehran at the invitation of the Islamic Republic, welcomed the nonexistent fatwa.[1]

Furthermore, U.S. media continue to report that the Obama administration relied on this nonexistent fatwa as justification for renewing negotiations with Iran. For example, on May 12, 2012, David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post that "President Obama sent a back-channel communication to Khamenei in March that his fatwa banning nuclear weapons would be a good starting point for negotiations."[2]

Khamenei is using the nuclear talks, set to take place in Baghdad on May 23, 2012, as a tool to assure his survival. Throughout his 23 years in power, Khamenei has firmly secured his own personal survival and that of his regime domestically by eradicating the reformist stream, banning personal and ideological opponents such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, No. 2 man Hashemi Rafsanjani, and others while concentrating power in his own hands; enacting harsh economic measures such as eliminating subsidies; instituting overall suppression of the print and electronic media; and, now, building his image as an imam.

Iran's Aim in the Nuclear Talks

The threat to the survival of the regime that Khamenei heads comes, according to his perception, only from without – first, by Western attack and political and economic sanctions due to Iran's nuclear activity, and second, by the Arab Spring revolutions and the collapse of the Syrian regime, directly impacting the resistance axis, in addition to Iran's loss of its grip on Hamas. Thus, Khamenei is now focusing all his efforts on ensuring his regime's survival using the most effective tool to neutralize these threats: nuclear negotiations.[3]

As part of the preparations for the talks' renewal on May 23, Iran is presenting demands focusing almost exclusively on securing its regime's survival against Western threats:

1. Complete cessation of efforts by the West, and especially the U.S., to bring about democratic change in Iran, including guarantees as drawn up by Iranian researcher Mehdi Khalaji.[4] These include:

a. Stopping all American broadcasts in Farsi

b. Ending political and financial support to opposition groups

c. No American intervention in Iranian censorship of the Internet

2. The lifting of sanctions, particularly oil sanctions, which are severely harming the regime

3. An end to Western efforts to isolate Iran internationally.

In the nuclear area, Iran has repeatedly stressed that it is a nuclear country that already enriches uranium up to 20%, and that it has no intention of using its nuclear achievements for military purposes.[5] Khamenei's (nonexistent) fatwa is cited by regime spokesmen to prove this and to demonstrate their integrity.

Considering that guaranteeing the survival of the regime is Khamenei's most important purpose in the nuclear talks – even more important than the nuclear issue itself – Khamenei has formulated a strategy for negotiation that strives to triumph over Iran's negotiating partners in any scenario.

This means that if the West accepts Iran's demands to stop instituting democratic change in the Iranian regime, Khamenei would boast a double achievement: He would ensure the survival of his regime, and he would also secure Iran's status as a member of the nuclear club. Furthermore, he will have accomplished all this in exchange for Iran's verbal assurance that it will not produce nuclear weapons – based on a fatwa that does not even exist.

However, if the West does not agree to the framework that Iran is attempting to impose, and does not accept its demand to cease threatening the regime's survival – Iran will then be able to freely pursue its military nuclear efforts. Thus, Iran will continue to thwart any Western threat to the regime – following the North Korea paradigm.

*A. Savyon is director of the Iranian media project.


[1] Fars (Iran), May 14, 2012.

[2] The Washington Post, May 12, 2012.

[3] It should be mentioned that Khamenei is acting according to the historical precedent of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who in 1968-71, in order to ensure international recognition of Iran's status as a regional superpower, negotiated with Britain and agreed to relinquish Bahrain, which was not actually under his control but which had once belonged to the Persian Empire.

[5] See, for example, a statement by Hossein Sheikh Al-Islam, advisor to Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, that Iran is coming to the Baghdad talks in a better position than before, because since the first round of talks in Istanbul took place, the Fordow facility has become operational, uranium has been enriched to 20%, and Iran has continued to manufacture third-generation centrifuges. Fars (Iran), May 13, 2012.

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