TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged presidential candidates on Tuesday not to make concessions to appease the West, an implied rebuke to several of the candidates running in June 14 elections who said that they would focus on improving the Islamic Republic's relations with other countries.
The comments by Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, are a red line to candidates indicating how far they can go, and a reminder that the ruling clerics rather than the elected president determine all major policies.
"Some, following this incorrect analysis -- that that we should make concession to the enemies to reduce their anger -- have put their interests before the interests of the Iranian nation. This is wrong," said Khamenei during a televised speech marking the anniversary of the June 3, 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. He said candidates "must promise" to put Iran's interests before foreign interests.
Ali Akbar Velayati , a Khamenei foreign advisor now running for president, said Friday that Iran needs "reconciliation with the world" to solve problems including high unemployment and inflation.
Another candidate, centrist Hasan Rowhani, has also signaled that he would lessen rifts between Iran and the West over its disputed nuclear program that the West fears has a military dimension, a charge Iran denies.
Khamenei said that the "anger of enemies" stems from the Islamic Republic's very existence.
He said the economy is Iran's main problem, but suggested economic problems could be improved by reducing consumption and management. "If our nation can be powerful and reduce its consumption, if the next president can manage the economy, the enemy will be defenseless in its confrontation with the Iranian nation."
Iran is under international and the Western economic sanctions that hit its vital crude exports and its access to its revenue abroad. This has caused price hikes as well as sharp devaluation of the country's currency.
The country also is suffering over 30 percent inflation and 14 percent unemployment rates.
Khamenei said the "enemies of Iran" intend to make trouble during the elections by stirring unrest. A wave of protest followed Iran's disputed 2009 election.
The Supreme Leader reiterated previous statements that he is not backing a particular candidate among the eight running for president. "The foreign media will soon begin to say that Khamenei prefers one of the candidates. This is wrong. I have no favorite candidate."
All candidates were present at Khamenei's speech at the Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum with the exception of Rowhani, who was on a provincial visit.
Meanwhile, hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili was quoted by a semi-official news agency as calling for the "100 percent enrichment" of youth, a reference to the process used to produce higher grade uranium that the West fears could be used for weapons. Iran says it needs enriched uranium for peaceful purposes.
"We have to move to a direction that our capacity to enrich the youth reaches 100 percent from 5 and 20 percent," Jalili, who was Iran's top nuclear negotiator, was quoted as saying.
Jalili, who has used strongly-worded language against the West in his campaign, did not mention the word "uranium" but has earlier said that uranium enrichment will continue regardless of who is elected president. Such key decisions fall under the authority of ruling clerics, not the president.