President Obama has long known that the real decision maker in Iran is Ayatollah Khamenei, the so-called supreme leader. While other Iranian officials have negotiated with Western powers over the mullahs’ nuclear program, Khamenei’s opinion is the only one that really counts. It is for this reason that Obama began writing directly to Khamenei early in his presidency.
Earlier today, Khamenei broke his silence on the supposed “framework” the Obama administration has been trumpeting as the basis for a nuclear accord. Khamenei’s speech pulled the rug out from underneath the administration.
Khamenei accused the Obama administration of “lying” about the proposed terms, being “deceptive,” and having “devilish” intentions, according to multiple published accounts of his speech, as well as posts on his official Twitter feed.
Khamenei also disputed the key terms Obama administration officials have said were agreed upon in principle. Economic sanctions will not be phased out once Iran’s compliance has been “verified,” according to the Ayatollah. Instead, Khamenei said that if the U.S. wants a deal, then all sanctions must be dropped as soon as the agreement is finalized. Khamenei also put strict limits on the reach of the inspectors who would be tasked with this verification process in the first place.
Beginning earlier this month and in the days since, Obama and his advisers have attempted to portray the negotiations as major step forward. During an appearance in the Rose Garden on April 2, Obama said the U.S. and its allies have “reached a historic understanding with Iran.”
Khamenei does not agree. “There was no need to take a position” on the supposed deal before today, Khamenei said. “The officials are saying that nothing has been done yet and nothing is obligatory. I neither agree nor disagree [with any deal].”
"What has been done so far does not guarantee an agreement, nor its contents, nor even that the negotiations will continue to the end," Khamenei elaborated.
"I neither support nor oppose it," Khamenei reportedly said of the proposed deal. "Everything is in the details; it may be that the deceptive other side wants to restrict us in the details."
It gets much worse.
When Obama announced that a “framework” for the deal was in place earlier this month, the administration released a fact sheet purportedly showing the agreed upon “parameters.” The White House said the terms outlined in the fact sheet “reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran.”
Khamenei would beg to differ.
“The White House put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks...this statement, which they called a 'fact sheet', was wrong on most of the issues," Khamenei said, according to Reuters. Khamenei added that the fact sheet, which doesn’t match Iran’s understanding, exposes America’s “devilish” intentions.
A second tweet reads: “What's been done so far secures neither the main deal nor its contents nor is it even clear whether #talks will bear fruit & lead to a deal.”
In a third tweet, the Ayatollah calls into question the Obama administration’s integrity. The fact sheet was supposedly an example of the White House’s “lying.” Khamenei’s Twitter feed contains this post: “I trust our negotiators but I'm really worried as the other side is into lying & breaching promises; an example was White House fact sheet.”
A fourth tweet reiterates the point: “Hours after the #talks, Americans offered a fact sheet that most of it was contrary to what was agreed. They always deceive & breach promises.”
Then there is the issue of sanctions relief. President Obama and other administration officials have stressed that economic sanctions will only be eased after Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal has been verified by international inspectors.
During his speech on April 2, Obama said that sanctions “relief will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.” Other “American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.”
Khamenei is having none of it.
The supreme leader said that sanctions “should be lifted all together on the same day of the agreement, not six months or one year later.” Rhetorically, he asked: “If lifting of sanctions is supposed to be connected to a process, then why do we negotiate?”
Again, Khamenei’s Twitter feed emphasized the point: “All #sanctions should be removed just when the deal is reached. If sanctions removal depends on another process then why we started to talk?”
Similarly, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said today that the sanctions should be lifted on the “first day” the deal is implemented.
The gap between the administration’s rhetoric on sanctions relief and the Iranian position is hardly surprising. Even before the administration announced the supposed framework for a deal earlier this month, Khamenei made it clear that all sanctions needed to be ended at the beginning of any deal.
During a speech on March 23, Khamenei said the phased approach to ending the sanctions was American “trickery.” Khamenei explained: “That is unacceptable because the lifting of the sanctions is part of the negotiations and not the result of the talks. Therefore, as the esteemed president [Rouhani] made clear, the sanctions should be lifted immediately after an agreement is reached.”
In his talk today, Khamenei also drew limits on the inspectors’ hypothetical reach inside Iran. “No unconventional inspection that’d place Iran under special monitoring is acceptable. Foreign monitoring on #Iran’s security isn’t allowed,” his social media team quoted him as saying.
Khamenei drew red lines around Iran’s military sites, which are at the heart of the dispute over the regime’s nuclear work. “The country’s military officials are not permitted at all to allow the foreigners to cross these boundaries…or [to] stop the country’s defensive development under the pretext of supervision and inspection,” Khamenei said.
Obama administration officials, including the president, have said that they had work to do to conclude a deal. But Obama himself presented the “framework” as a “historic understanding” between the two sides.
There is no evidence in Khamenei’s rhetoric that this is true.