Khamenei ‘Not Opposed’ to Diplomacy, Flexibility

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In a meeting with commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah), Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke in favor of diplomacy while still recognizing who Iran’s enemies are. He also spoke against Sepah’s interference in politics.

According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, which only carried parts of the speech, Khamenei said, “I am not opposed to correct diplomacy. I believe in what was named many years ago as ‘heroic flexibility.’” Others have translated this term as a “champion’s leniency;” however, Khamenei’s own Twitter staff chose to translate the term as “heroic flexibility.”

Khamenei elaborated, “just like a wrestler that due to technical reasons shows flexibility, [and] must not forget who is opponent and enemy is.”

A journalist in Iran told Al-Monitor that these statements could be interpreted as Khamenei announcing that Iran is “ready to compromise and step back on the nuclear program on the condition that the system’s honor is protected in regard the nuclear crisis.” While this is not the first time that Khamenei has publicly discussed his openness to negotiations with the West, these are perhaps his most blunt statements in regard to Iran’s ability to show flexibility or leniency.

Khamenei also spoke about the influence of Sepah in politics. He said that the Revolutionary Guard “should know what it will guard. It is not necessary for it to act as a guard in the political scene, but it should know the political scene.” Yesterday, President Hassan Rouhani made similar comments when he said that “Sepah should be far from political currents, because its place is higher than these partisan games and currents. It should not be attached to a side or party.” Rouhani also asked Sepah to help the country economically.

In response to Rouhani’s comments, hard-line and Reformist media selectively highlighted aspects of the speech in their headlines. Hard-line media focused on Rouhani’s request that Sepah help the administration during difficult economic times while Reformist papers focused on the need for Sepah to not act as a partisan political player.

Reformist newspaper Bahar spoke with economist Saeed Shirkavand, who was deputy to the economic minister under President Mohammad Khatami, about Rouhani’s comments on Sepah’s economic role in the country.

While the extent of Sepah’s economic influence has been controversial, particularly in recent years, Shirkavand said that given Iran’s current economic crisis, “Only large economic firms and economic giants can cross this economic situation.”

Shirkavand continued, “Considering that they have had a lot of economic activity in the last few years, if we are to suddenly lessen their presence economically, it would be like suddenly cutting a major artery. Assume that you say from tomorrow, Sepah will no longer have a presence in the economic scene. How many projects such as roads and dams will be grounded?”

When asked why Sepah has large economic firms, Shirkavand said, “It was natural, because after the victory that we achieved after the war [against Iraq], Sepah entered into work such as building roads. We could not allow a force that was in Sepah to remain stagnant.” During the Iran-Iraq war, many wartime construction contracts were granted to Sepah.

Shirkavand was asked about how some felt Rouhani was criticizing Sepah’s economic influence. Shirkavand disagreed, saying that Rouhani “said that we accept that Sepah has a role in the economy of the country, a role that is actually strong, and this institution can transfer it to the private sector. But not in one place — in the duration of some years.”