Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected former president Mohammad Khatami’s call for national reconciliation.
“The people are already united,” Khamenei said during a speech on February 15, adding that the concept of national reconciliation “made no sense to him.”
The supreme leader rejected the former reformist president’s call for public unity less than a week after he suggested it.
Khatami called for the country to come together in an effort to combat threats posed by United States president Donald Trump and other foreign entities.
Speaking on February 7, days ahead of the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Khatami indirectly invited Khamenei to respond to his rallying cry for Iranians to “join together and stand up to those who want to attack Iran.”
Prior to Khamenei’s rejection, the powerful Head of the Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, also dismissed Khatami’s ideas as “irrelevant.”
Khatami had proposed an end to divisions in the country that emerged out of the 2009 presidential election and its aftermath. A day on from Khatami’s speech, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a reformist politician who has been in prison since 2009, praised the plan, adding that releasing the leaders of the Green Movement from house arrest would be a significant and necessary step toward this reconciliation.
But in his speech, Khamenei outwardly rejected such a prospect “Why should there be talk of reconciliation? Are the people against each other?” He went on to clarify that it was only certain people who had caused problems, and the attitude toward them would not change. “Yes, people are against those who took to the streets on the [holy] day of Ashura [in the aftermath of the 2009 election], beating and stripping the young [paramilitary] Basiji shamelessly and brutally. The people are against this, and they will not reconcile with the people who did this.”
Following the death of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in January — the key channel to the supreme leader — reformists had made attempts to open dialogue with Ayatollah Khamenei. This speech left no uncertainty as to the levels of his anger and demonstrated that he had no intention of establishing direct communications with reformists. Khamenei has been on record saying that the Green Movement leaders must apologize for labeling the 2009 election as “fraudulent” before any progress could be made.
Khatami himself is banned from political activities — he was not present at last week’s prominent anniversary rally in Tehran. Khamenei’s allies have made it clear that they only way Khatami can be welcomed back into political life is through severing ties with Green Movement leaders.
But Khamenei’s negative response also sets an interesting tone for the forthcoming presidential election, adding another layer of confusion and complexity. In recent weeks there has been some speculation that Khamenei might agree to end the house arrests of the Green Movement leaders as a means of easing domestic tensions and encouraging a greater voter turn out. So his recent statements, while not a complete surprise, may baffle those who believed the supreme leader was working toward cohesion in the run up to the election.
“There were those people who were against the revolution itself and said that the elections were only an excuse and that the system itself was their target," said Khamenei. “But these people are very few in number and a small drop in the ocean.”
Hardliner media have made similar accusations against reformists for a long time, arguing that they are out to destroy the very fabric of the Islamic Republic and what it stands for, not just shake up election procedures. Khamenei’s recent comments reveal the fact that he does not consider reformist and dissident forces numerous enough to worry about, or influential enough to require negotiating with as equals, especially since this is what reformists want. They would interpret a willingness to negotiate as at least a small triumph. And Khamenei’s reference to “a small drop” is reminiscent of a famous statement by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He dismissed those who protested against the election results as no more than “dust and trash.”
Rouhani, The Other Target
During his speech, Khamenei also took the opportunity to attack some of the policies of President Rouhani’s administration. “People's grievances cannot be ignored: recession, unemployment, and inflation are important issues,” he said. He said the government must account for what it has done for the “resistance economy,” and stated that selling more oil was not the same as following through with policies that would protect the Iranian people.
He also dismissed claims that the nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had helped to protect Iran. “One European official said to one of our officials that if it was not for the JCPOA, a war on Iran would be certain. This is just a lie! Why are they talking about war? Because they want to engage the minds in war; however, the real war is an economic war, sanctions and ruining the levels of employment activity and technology industries within our country. They draw our attention to a military war so we may forget about these other wars. A real war is the cultural war."
With the presidential election approaching, hardliner media have been making similar arguments in recent months. Now they have the supreme leader’s seal of approval — and they will no doubt remind their political opponents, as well as the Iranian people – of this throughout the coming weeks. This will weaken President Rouhani’s prospects for re-election, an outcome that is for them far more important than sidelining reformists. And it would appear this outcome might be something Khamenei wants to achieve too.