Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Breakfast With the Supreme Leader

by Elliott Abrams
February 1, 2013


This past week I participated in a conference on Iran convened by the Henry Jackson Society of London and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy of Washington, DC.

As the executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, Alan Mendoza, put it, “Having breakfast with the Supreme Leader of Iran is not something many people can boast of.  But the account of just such an occasion by Rafael Bardaji – former national security advisor to the Spanish Prime Minister – stood out as a highlight of the HJS Iran conference in Westminster earlier this week. Bardaji relayed to a packed hall his story of the meeting.”

The story is this: The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, invited then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to breakfast while he was visiting Iran.  The Spanish official party decided to begin by asking the ayatollah a friendly or neutral question rather than a hostile or critical one. The idea was to get the meeting off on a better footing, so they began with a question about the complex government and religious power structure in Iran. Given all the official civil and religious bodies and positions and their various responsibilities, they asked him to describe what exactly is his job.  ‘My job’, the Supreme Leader replied, ‘is to set Israel on fire.’

Aznar visited Iran in 2001, and has elsewhere said this about his conversation with the Ayatollah Khamanei:

Israel to him was a kind of historical cancer and anomaly, a country … condemned to disappear. At some point he said very clearly, though softly as he spoke, that an open confrontation against the US and Israel was inevitable, and that he was working for Iran to prevail in such a confrontation. It was his duty as the ultimate stalwart of the Islamic global revolution.

As we think through the likelihood of arriving at a good negotiated solution with Iran, and the possibility of persuading and pressuring the Supreme Leader to abandon his nuclear weapons program, it is worth keeping this rare encounter with him by a Western democratic leader very much in mind.


Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Peter

    It isn’t surprising that most of the time our adversaries say what they mean and mean what they say. What still does surprise me is the cottage industry of “experts” who plague the media insisting that there is nothing to see here. And who are plentiful in the government as well.

  • Posted by Shimon

    The prosecutor can yield a more complete exposition of the truth, if Judges are self-referential.
    Ali Khameini’s worldview is an extension of his satisfaction; it lacks the rigor and stamina of a vision less concerned with posterity and more preoccupied with rational self-interest for kin. Israel could do well to leverage its considerable advantages in this regard to muscle its way, proverbially, into the Ayatollah’s recapitulation of something which has failed before.
    It would be a transition for a scholarly, peace-loving set of people, but one that is necessary to preserve the common challenges which concern the region as a whole- the preservation of our habitat, the restoration of human dignity, and a return to a life that layers complexity in place of the complications which arise from blurred convictions.

  • Posted by Gary Katz

    I guarantee you this: not one ayatollah, fire-breathing imam, political leader, etc., who advocates destroying Israel will ever fight on the front lines. They should use the old Three Stooges line (as modified): “I shall defend the honor of Islam to the last drop of… your blood!”

  • Posted by Cary Gatz

    Kol haposel, b’mumo posel.

  • Posted by hesam

    down with america
    down with israel
    Long live Islam

  • Posted by Jonh

    I’ve been following think tanks and many American analysis also show hostility towards Iran, so what’s the difference???

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