Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed that the Islamic Republic’s presence in countries such as Iraq and Syria is not for military control, but rather for “advisory” assistance.
“We are there to support sovereign governments at their own behest,” he said, rejecting the US depiction of Iran as a “destabilizing” factor. Khamenei also criticized the American military for establishing bases in those two countries “without permission” from the hosts.
The issue of Iran’s influence in the region has been at the core of its tensions with the West and Khamenei’s latest remarks appeared as yet another message of defiance and a clear statement that the issue is not up for negotiations. Instead, he insisted that it is the United States “that must leave Iraq and Syria.”
“They claim they are against Weapons of Mass Destruction,” the Iranian leader said, before throwing a sarcastic quip at the US “lying” because “they possess the worst and most dangerous of such weapons and they have used them.”
In response to Western worries regarding Iranian plans to develop nuclear bombs, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly referenced a Fatwa, or religious edict, by Khamenei that places a strict ban on the pursuit of such arms as religiously forbidden. Last month, however, a slip of tongue by the country’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, sparked controversy when he suggested Iran might change course and produce such weapons if it continues to remain targeted by crippling sanctions. The comment cost him a rebuke from President Hassan Rouhani.
Khamenei’s speech also targeted Washington’s ties with Riyadh, Tehran’s top rival in the region. The Americans “defended a convict who dismembered his opponent with a saw,” Khamenei said of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his role in the 2018 murder of prominent dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “The Americans have been inverting the truth.”
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been on the rise, especially since 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition invaded Yemen to defend the Yemeni government and curb the influence of Tehran-backed Houthi rebels. Iran is accused of providing arms — including a range of rockets and missiles — which the Shiite group continues to launch against Saudi interests, among them military bases and key oil installations.
In his speech, however, Khamenei appeared to be distancing Tehran from the Yemen conflict. While defending the Yemenis, he denied any Iranian involvement.
“Yemenis are gifted people. They have managed to produce or provide means for their defence on their own to respond to the six-year-long bombardments."