Khamenei defies protesters' demand for ending costly regional role, threatens US

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Jan 9, 2018
Khamenei defies protesters' demand for ending costly regional role, threatens US

Iran’s Supreme Leader today accused the United States and its regional allies of fomenting unrest in the country and warned that Tehran will retaliate against Washington. "You inflicted damage on Iran in these days and this will not go unanswered," he stressed, addressing the US government. “The American President says that… the Iranian government is terrified by America’s power. Well, if we’re scared of you, how did we drive you out of Iran in the 1970s and evicted you from the entire region in 2010s?” he added. Speaking to a large group from Iran’s holy city of Qom, the supreme leader also defended Iran’s role in regional conflicts. “The powerful presence of the Islamic Republic in the region is one instrument of our national power. It depicts the nation powerful and it is a reality. They want to destroy this.” He also emphasized Tehran would not negotiate with European powers or America over its military presence in the region or its controversial missile program.

Comment: It was the first time the supreme leader in details discussed the latest antigovernment protests across the country. Khamenei’s remarks show that the Iranian regime has no intention to address the ordinary Iranians’ economic, social and political grievances; instead, Iranian leaders are discrediting the protesters as a foreign-backed plot by the regime. In recent days, protesters in different parts of the country chanted slogans against Iran’s costly military adventurism abroad at the expense of domestic priorities. Videos from the protests showed people chanting slogans such as “No Gaza, No Lebanon, Our Lives for Iran,” or “Leave Syria Alone, Think about US.” But Khamenei today reiterated support for the IRGC’s involvement in regional conflicts.  

The supreme leader’s comments also show that Tehran is unwilling to accept French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to “supplement” the Iranian nuclear deal with additional provisions that would address some of the loopholes of the nuclear accord and convince the Trump administration to keep the deal.

But the most important point in Khamenei’s remarks today was his threat of retaliation against the United States, which he blamed for the latest protests against the Iranian regime. He did not elaborate on what kind of retaliation Tehran is envisaging against the United States. But if Tehran is seriously considering any actions against Washington, it will most likely try to harm US interests in the region through its proxy groups in Iraq and in the broader region.