Iran’s Supreme Leader Needs Obama’s Deal

Ali Khamenei needs a nuclear deal with the U.S. to preserve the power of the Supreme Leader after he passes.

Caren Firouz / Reuters

As U.S. and Iranian representatives fiercely negotiate a grand nuclear deal, I am reminded of Churchill's famous saying: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they've tried everything else.”

Secretary of State John Kerry talks about leaving the negotiation table if Iran does not accept the 5+1 while Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, says through various mouthpieces that it is America that needs these talks. Kerry wants a sequential deal, first political then technical, but Khamenei asks for a simultaneous one.

While Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, walk the walk in Geneva, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani talks the talk, applauding progresses made abroad along with yet to be verified domestic economic achievements. It is déjà vu as he attempts to cool down mounting popular frustrations at home.

Israelis and Saudis can tear themselves apart reminding their American ally of the long-term threats to stability should the Shia revolutionary regime obtain U.S. and international recognition for its nuclear threshold capabilities. The world can speculate on the next move to be made on the Iranian exchequer. The House of Khamenei, that focal point of real power in Iran known to all Iranians as The Beyt, can push its pawns ever farther into every single conflict in the region. America seems to be ready to make yet another wrong decision before she eventually decides on the right one.

The revolutionary system in Iran known as Nezâm is such that its architecture is entirely founded on a single pillar: the person and institution of the Supreme Leader. Two such supreme creatures have filled the coveted spot since 1979: Khomeini, the founder, and Khamenei, the follower. In 1988, the founder had to drink “the cup of poison” and unconditionally surrender to UNSC Resolution 598, thus ending a war he had neither been willing nor able to end otherwise. He died soon afterward.

In 2015, his follower Khamenei is facing the same poisonous dilemma that eventually killed the founder: unconditionally surrendering to an entire collection of greater and lesser Satans, or losing a Nezâm that has made him Iran’s most powerful man and his entourage the richest one. Terminally ill with prostate cancer, President Obama’s real Iranian interlocutor has to resort to pain killers and their debilitating effects on his judgment. His economy ruined by mismanagement and sanctions; his country devastated by draught, brain drain, injustice, religious and gender segregations, illiteracy and poverty; death and infamy as his sole horizon—Khamenei is a sick man walking down the death row of a prison whose walls he built up, brick by brick, on the ruins left by his predecessor.

Like the founder, the priority of his priorities is to save the Nezâm. To this end, Khamenei has come up with four plans: a) blur his red lines in nuclear negotiations, get sanctions lifted, and continue as before without any social, economic, political or cultural improvement at home, while Rouhani is quietly promoted as the next Supreme Leader in order to pretend changes are on the way; b) persuade former president Hashemi Rafsanjani to head the Assembly of Experts, supposedly in charge of monitoring the Supreme Leader and his actions, at the price of grooming Mojtaba Khamenei, his own son, as the next leader; c) manufacture consent, including a fabricated popular one, around Mohammad Khatami as a national hero or savior in case a & b fail; and, d) give a green light to a complete Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) takeover of Iran, in case a, b & c fail. With this backdrop in perspective, Iran’s regular armed forces are regarded as the regime’s real opposition in inner circles of power.

Disavowed among his own followers, Khamenei needs Obama to save what can be saved of his House and his regime. Will the U.S. walk the walk?

Any deal with Iran will inevitably pose the crucial question of its viability as well as its verifiability. Thus the following question: can Obama ensure the world that Rouhani’s signature will be respected by the IRGC, i.e. by those who effectively control the nuclear and ballistic projects, much of the country’s economy and the totality of the smuggled goods that feed it? No deal can be viable and thus verifiable if it does not come along with the stability and sustainability of the political order it is built upon.

Therefore, this second question: does the Obama administration consider Khamenei’s regime as both stable and sustainable enough to strategically commit a 77-million strong nation like Iran? Sound strategy is built on sane anthropology, on a healthy understanding of the human factor. Thus these last questions: Does the Obama administration consider Iranians as an Islamist crowd, or does it see Iran as the emerging post-Islamist nation? Are Iran’s musical and cinematographic scenes, academia and entrepreneurial forces, artists, lawyers, and civil right activists reflective of a country best represented by Khamenei and his Mesozoic clique, or telling of a modern nation vying for national and international recognition for its natural aspirations?

By leaving the negotiation table, Kerry would give the regime the excuse it needs in order to justify its own cascade of failures. The regime’s self-apologetic narrative would thus become, “arrogant Americans came, imposed sanctions, and left, insensitive that they have always been to the plagues of the Iranian people”. Civil war would soon follow through: the IRGC would take over and the regime’s inner circles’ real opposition, the regular armed forces, would retaliate to the coup. Instead, Obama should accept Khameniei's offer for a simultaneous political and technical agreement, pending this important U.S. amendment: any nuclear deal, before fully enforceable, should be approved by a new Iranian parliament out of free, fair and competitive elections under international monitoring. Even nagging reformists inside the regime would agree with such a “deal”.

Iran was the initiator of jihad in modern times. Iran can become the first post-Islamist nation in this dawn of the 21st century. The outcome partly depends on the U.S. decision, partly on us Iranians. The dead man is walking to his scaffold, leaving behind a beheaded regime to face alone an economic tsunami and a political earthquake.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

In 1906, the Persian Constitutional Movement forced a despotic monarch to accept the country’s first-ever elected Parliament. A companion of Persia’s progressive forces, an American lawyer and civil servant was appointed by this new assembly to manage the country’s finances. His name was William Morgan Shuster. A century later, will America be a merchant of the past, or a progressive actor of the future?

There is no use to talk about abuses of this regime of human right in Iran, as it is getting worse by the day to such an extent that it has turn Iran to a gigantic open prison—with lots of smaller prisons all over Iran to chain political activists and human-rights fighters. To save these courageous political prisoner and sets them free, the global community has to help Iranian people to free the open prison first; that is when human-rights abuses will stop.

Djavad Khadem is a co-founder of Unity for Democracy in Iran, which works to promote the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. He served as minister of housing and development in the government of Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar just prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and later coordinated the 1981 Noujeh military uprising against the Islamic Republic of Iran. is a crowdsourcing platform created by Advancing Human Rights which connects activists from dictatorships with people around the world with skills to help them.