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Ali Khamenei sitting while addressing a crowd. Courtesy of PA Images/Zuma Press

The Constraints of Infallibility: The Pronouncements of Iran’s Supreme Leader

P Sadeghi and Jack Watling
RUSI Journal, 28 May 2020
Iran's Nuclear Programme, Military Sciences, Iran, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, Middle East and North Africa
It is hard for the Supreme Leader to change his position on major policy questions.

There has been persistent confusion among European and US diplomats over the public statements of Ayatollah Khamenei on matters of foreign policy. Despite significant Iranian pragmatism in negotiations, Khamenei’s pronouncements are consistently combative. P Sadeghi and Jack Watling examine the evolution of the concept of velayat-e faqih, which underpins the position of the Supreme Leader, and how it has been promulgated, and argue that Khamenei has developed a narrative of infallibility. This, combined with the obligations pertaining to his office as an Ayatollah, have made him uniquely constrained in his ability to publicly alter his language. At the same time Khamenei has worked to centralise power around his office, thereby creating a paradox by which the most powerful decision-maker in Iran is unable to offer clear public leadership for fear of being proven wrong.

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Dr Jack Watling
Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Dr Jack Watling is Research Fellow for Land Warfare. Jack has recently conducted studies of deterrence against Russia, force... read more

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