Under the Iranian Constitution, Ayatollah Khamenei makes the final decisions on Iran’s foreign and defense policies.
In a lengthy sermon Friday that reaffirmed the disputed re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei made an oblique reference to a letter from the U.S. but embedded the reference in a diatribe against purported U.S. interference in Iranian affairs.
“The American president was quoted as saying that he expected the people of Iran to take to the streets,” Ayatollah Khamenei misquoted Mr. Obama as saying, according to a translation by Mideastwire.com.
“On the one hand, they [the Obama administration] write a letter to us to express their respect for the Islamic Republic and for re-establishment of ties, and on the other hand they make these remarks. Which one of these remarks are we supposed to believe? Inside the country, their agents were activated. Vandalism started. Sabotaging and setting fires on the streets started. Some shops were looted. They wanted to create chaos. Public security was violated. The violators are not the public or the supporters of the candidates. They are the ill-wishers, mercenaries and agents of the Western intelligence services and the Zionists.”
An Iranian news site, Ayandehnews.com, first reported on the U.S. letter on Tuesday.
Asked about the letter, the Swiss ambassador to Washington, Urs Ziswiller, told The Times, “I cannot comment on that.”
Past U.S. efforts to engage Iran have foundered, in part because the overture was addressed to Iran’s president rather than the supreme leader. This was the case in the late 1990s when then-President Clinton wrote a letter to then-President Mohammed Khatami seeking cooperation against terrorism in the aftermath of a bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. The 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers, thought to have been committed by Iran-backed Saudi Shi’ites, took place before Mr. Khatami took office.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Obama administration would do better to “avoid any talk of engagement” with Iran until the outcome of the current political ferment is clearer.
“The fact is, we will by necessity engage, but not at the moment,” he said. “I don’t think we want to suggest it will be business as usual, regardless of the outcome” of the political struggle in Iran.
Patrick Clawson, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama’s tougher remarks on Tuesday showed that he understands that “the prospects for a successful engagement are declining.”