Why the Ayatollah Thinks He Won
The U.S. hoped that the nuclear deal would boost Iran’s moderates, but after more than a year, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies seem to be the big winnersBy Jay Solomon, WSJ
Aug. 19, 2016 1:32 p.m. ET
Since the completion last year of a landmark deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has lashed out again and again at the U.S. for its supposed failure to live up to its end of the bargain. But a speech he gave on Aug. 1 in Tehran took his anti-American rhetoric to a new level. He accused the Obama administration of a “bullying policy” and of failing to lift sanctions in a way that benefited “the life of the people.” Mr. Khamenei ruled out cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, telling his audience that Iran’s experience with the nuclear deal “showed us that we cannot speak to [the Americans] on any matter like a trustworthy party.” Many in the crowd chanted anti-U.S. slogans.
Is Iran preparing to walk away from the accord? It’s unlikely. Mr. Khamenei’s speech was classical political posturing intended to rally his hard-line followers. But more than that, his bluster conceals a deeper strategic calculus. For all his complaints about American treachery, Mr. Khamenei and his allies recognize that the nuclear deal has produced significant benefits for their hobbled theocracy and may serve to further entrench the regime brought to power in the 1979 revolution.
President Barack Obama defined the nuclear deal primarily as an arms-control exercise, designed to constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for at least a decade and to keep the U.S. from becoming embroiled in yet another Middle East war. But the White House and its top diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, also quietly suggested that the agreement might open the door to a broader rapprochement between Tehran and Washington and empower Iran’s moderate political forces, particularly its elected president, Hassan Rouhani.