What does Khamenei mean by ‘heroic flexibility’?

Reza HaghighatNejad writes: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has created a stir this week by declaring that he supports “heroic flexibility” in diplomacy, during a speech to commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. The term has been the buzz of Iranian media since Khamenei uttered it, raising questions as to what precisely the supreme leader meant with his elusive phrasing.

This isn’t the first time Khamenei refers to “heroic flexibility.” On September 5, during a meeting with members of Assembly of Experts he said, “artistic and heroic leniency and flexibility in all political arena is desirable and acceptable,” though he cautioned that this “maneuvering must not mean passing redlines, regressing from fundamental strategies, and disregarding the ideals.”

Even so, emphasizing these words in the presence of Guards’ commanders, the powerful military and political figures most loyal to him, suggests that Khamenei is not playing with shades of meaning but signaling a new approach.

If “heroic flexibility” suggests a new approach, how can this nascent policy be interpreted? In the same speech, Khamenei outlined the main condition for this type of diplomatic flexibility to be exercised: “A technical wrestler may also show some flexibility on technical grounds occasionally, but does not forget who his opponent is and what his main goal is.”

What Khamenei is likely stressing here is that the Rouhani government’s diplomatic innovations must be limited to the technical area of Iran’s nuclear program. Khamenei has said recently that though he is not optimistic about negotiations with the United States, he has issued permission for certain case-by-case negotiations. Talking about case-by-case negotiations is, in fact, a manifestation of the reason for diplomatic leniency. Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator, has recently said that the supreme leader has permitted President Hassan Rouhani to hold direct talks with the United States.

Khamenei also emphasized, however, that he expects the new cabinet to project an image of strength, as it is representing the regime politically alongside whatever new diplomacy it takes forward. He spoked repeatedly in his speech about the rightfulness of the Islamic Republic, the defeat of the West, and the importance of presenting a new model to the world. He stressed that Iran’s relationship within the West and the handling of the nuclear crisis must be evaluated in the context of the West’s dealings with Islam and the Iranian state.

One of the most significant aspects of the speech was Khamenei’s efforts to prepare hardliners, especially the most radical, for the potential innovations, read concessions, of the Rouhani government. [Continue reading…]

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One thought on “What does Khamenei mean by ‘heroic flexibility’?

  1. delia ruhe

    ‘ “heroic flexibility” in diplomacy’

    I would say that ‘heroic flexibility’ is easier for Americans to understand than ‘diplomacy’ — which is for wimps.

    Anyone with an interest in the state of the US diplomatic corps should read some of Chas Freeman’s speeches, which he’s got posted on his website. He’s in despair over America’s deploring lack of properly trained diplomats, generous donors to parties being frequently given diplomatic postings in gratitude (when such postings are not actually bought-and-sold items on offer by both parties). Americans get much more upset over the idea of renting out the Lincoln bedroom.


    Freeman on China-US relations is especially interesting, particularly the most recent speech.

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