These moves apparently add to a long list of anti-American gestures made by Iranian officials in the months since the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Some regarded those negotiations as hopeful signs of broader reconciliation between the two countries, but Khamenei and other hardline officials have taken pains to push back against such expectations. The supreme leader called upon the government to avoid all further negotiations with the US, and many elements of that government have gone much further, striking a defiant tone on issues like ballistic missile testing and the January seizure of two American naval vessels that had strayed into Iranian territorial waters.
The rhetorical nature of the Chevrolet ban was driven home by a corresponding speech by Supreme Leader Khamenei, in which he not only emphasized the need for domestic production but also criticized the existing demand for American products, claiming that the would-be imports are of such poor quality that even Americans themselves do not want them. “Why should we import the cars from a bankrupt American factory? This is very odd,” the speech said in part, according to Fortune.
While that speech evidently sought to undermine perceptions of American economic strength last week, it was followed up on Monday by another speech in which Khamenei addressed the US military presence in the Middle East, striking a defiant tone that is frequently repeated in messages by Iranian military officers and Revolutionary Guards. In April, these forces celebrated Iran’s Army Day with the unveiling of domestically produced weapons that officials described as having been developed for defense against such powerful “enemies” as the US and Israel.
In his new speech, which was partially broadcast on Iranian state television, Khamenei capitalized upon such shows of strength by effectively ordering the US to leave the Persian Gulf, where the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet has long been stationed to protect international shipping lanes and the interests of allies in the region, including chief Iranian adversary Saudi Arabia.
“What are you doing here?” Khamenei said to the US in reference to recent military exercises in the Persian Gulf. “Go back to the Bay of Pigs. Go and hold exercises there. What are you doing in the Persian Gulf? The Persian Gulf is our home.”
According to the Associated Press, Khamenei’s speech also touched upon cultural issues by urging education authorities to de-emphasize English language curricula in favor of other languages such as Spanish, French, German, and Chinese. Such commentary reflects the fact that Khamenei’s anti-American rhetoric has focused on a range of potential means of influence in the wake of the nuclear agreement. Indeed, shortly after that agreement was concluded, Khamenei warned that Western powers would attempt to exploit it for the sake of economic, political, and cultural “infiltration” of the Islamic Republic.
Although some Iranian policies since that time have apparently been aimed at simply creating bulwarks against such influence while still preserving the nuclear deal and the current climate of rapprochement, others have been so blatantly defiant as to possibly challenge the limits of that rapprochement. Political analysts expect that those challenges will be greatly amplified in the coming year, as the US is approaching presidential elections in which the leading candidates all have more aggressive views on Iran than the Obama administration does. Those candidates have also been exposed to persistent criticism of the administration’s policies, especially as voiced by the Republican Party.
Many of Iran’s recent activities have served to fuel those criticisms. For instance, congressional pressure apparently helped to secure President Obama’s decision to impose new sanctions on Iran over two ballistic missile tests in October and November, which violated a UN Security Council resolution banning Iran’s work on weapons capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. But the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps followed up by carrying out three more such tests in March.
Now, National Security News reports that the Iranian government has announced plans for yet another test, this one a “full launch” of the Simorgh space vehicle, “which analysts believe is a key component of Tehran’s goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of striking the U.S. with a nuclear warhead.”
National Security News emphasizes that the anticipated timing of this launch – February – will make it the first major challenge to the next president’s stance on Iran. Such provocations may go a long way toward encouraging a break from the Obama administration’s current soft approach to dealing with the Islamic Republic. And some factions of the government in Tehran may actually see benefit in this change, considering how important the aforementioned anti-American rhetoric is to the supreme leader and the identity of his regime.
On Tuesday, the National Interest published a lengthy editorial analyzing Iran’s current positions regarding the US, as compared to its positions regarding the US’s former Cold War adversary, Russia. The article makes the case that Khamenei’s uncompromising hardline approach to the US is either insincere or ill-informed, insofar as it rejects all American positions that clash with Iranian interests, but ignores all similar positions coming out of Moscow.
The National Interest adds that Russia has voted for all major UN Security Council resolutions against the Islamic Republic, has maintained close relations with Iran’s regional adversaries Israel and Saudi Arabia, has reneged on former agreements over weapons sales to the Islamic Republic, and so on.
The article also refers to Syria among the other examples of topics on which Iranian and Russian interests clash or potentially could do so. Indeed, although Russia has largely supported Iran’s efforts to support the embattled Assad regime, many analysts have emphasized that Moscow is pursuing its own interests in that conflict and that Russia’s commitment to Assad may be much more limited that Iran’s.
There have even been signs that the Russian’s have been approaching that limit in the midst of recent international negotiations in pursuit of a peaceful solution to the Syrian Civil War. After an initial ceasefire, Russian forces reportedly partly withdrew their air support for Iranian-led ground forces. And now, with the ceasefire having failed and fighting having intensified in the divided city of Aleppo, the US and the UN are both putting pressure on Russia to negotiate a broader agreement and help enforce it.
It is quite possible that concerns over the success of this outreach may be a major motivator behind Iran’s sending Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Moscow on Wednesday. According to Trend, he is expected to talk to a Russian counterpart about the imminent resumption of international talks in Geneva, and he will presumably urge Moscow to maintain alignment between Iranian and Russian positions, especially regarding the future of Bashar al-Assad. Doing so would not only help to preserve Iranian foreign policy interests, it would also help to preserve an alliance that has substantiated a major talking point in Tehran’s anti-Western rhetoric.