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How much control does Ayatollah Khamenei have in Iranian-U.S. relations?

Question submitted by Arianna Talaie, from College of William and Mary, December 23, 2013

Answered by: Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

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Ali Khamenei is the Supreme Leader of Iran and has the final say on all issues pertaining to its foreign policy. The Islamic Republic has a complex constitutional structure whereby the authority of the president and the parliament are subservient to that of the Supreme Leader. All issues of war and peace, treaties and elections have to be approved by Khamenei. As such, the presidents and foreign ministers can engage in negotiations but cannot commit Iran to a final course until the Supreme Leader approves.

The question of relations with the United States has bedeviled the Islamic Republic since the revolution. Khamenei belongs to the cadre of ideologues who are suspicious of the United States and perceive its presence and influence as subversive. In Khamenei's view, the United States is determined to overthrow the Iranian regime and its offers of diplomacy and dialogue have to be considered as insincere.

Given the immense economic pressure his country faces, Khamenei has conceded to negotiations with the United States on the nuclear file, but he remains dubious of diplomacy and its prospects. As such, Khamenei has to be considered an obstacle to better relations between Iran and the United States.