'Death to America?' Seriously? An Evidence Khomeini's Legacy Is Complicated
14 June 2016
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
The oft-repeated Iranian slogan, ''Death to America'' has always been an empty
rhetoric since the very beginning. The hollowness of the slogan can be traced
back to the events as early as in 1963 when Ayatollah Khomeini made attempts
to reach out to the United States, according to a largely unnoticed
declassified 1980 CIA document.
In November 1963, Khomeini sent a message to the US administration through
Mirza Khalil Kamarah'i, explaining that he was not opposed to the American
interests in Iran. On the contrary, he thought the American presence in the
country was necessary as a counterbalance to Soviet and possibly British
Newly declassified US diplomatic cables have revealed extensive contacts
between Khomeini and the Carter administration just weeks ahead of Iran's
Islamic revolution, according to The Guardian, a leading British newspaper.
New documents seen by the BBC's Persian service show the
Iranian leader communicated with American officials at lengths to ensure that
the US would not jeopardize his return to Iran. The Carter administration
seemed to have trusted Khomeini promises, and ensured his safety and the
success of ''revolution'' by holding the Iranian army back from launching a
The BBC's reports, says The Guardian, ''have created a huge row in Iran: if
true they would undermine the myth that Khomeini staunchly resisted any direct
links with the US, which remained taboo for three decades until the recent
The Iranian officials were quick to deny the reports, saying the letters were
''fabricated,'' even before checking the documents. Supreme leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei was the first to denounce the BBC revelations. Other Iranian
politicians have also questioned the BBC's reports, including Ebrahim Yazdi,
the first foreign minister under Khomeini, who was, then, making regular
public statements on behalf of his leader, promising the new republic was
going to be a tolerant democracy, nothing about an Islamic revolution.
In a total contrast to his public tirades against the ''Great Satan,''
Khomeini's private letters to the US sound very humble and conciliatory.
Weeks before his return to Tehran, he wrote: ''It is advisable
that you recommend to the army not to follow (Shah's prime minister Shapour)
Bakhtiar. You will see we are not in any particular animosity with the
Americans.'' In the same month, he wrote:
should be no fear about oil. It is not true that we wouldn't sell to the US.''
Two weeks after the Shah fled, on US advice, Khomeini returned triumphantly to
Tehran on Feb., 1, 1979. As agreed with the US, the Iranian military
surrendered, and Khomeini was named the supreme leader of the new Islamic
The secret honeymoon ended gradually, because the Iranian people have had a
grudge against America for its staunch support of the Shah regime against his
own people. Relations broke down completely in November 1979, when Iranian
students took over the US embassy and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.
But despite confrontational rhetoric on both sides, The Guardian reports that
''the revolution did not mark an end to direct talks between Iran and the US.
The current president, Hassan Rouhani, is believed to have been involved in
covert negotiations in which the US agreed to covertly ship arms to Tehran to
secure the release of American hostages.'' This continued during the long war
with Iraq, via Israel.
Kambiz Fattahi, BBC Persian reporter, who broke the story, said: ''The
documents clearly show that Khomeini was less heroic, and far craftier, behind
the scenes. He quietly courted the US government, making all kinds of promises
about the future of core US interests in Iran.
''The documents are significant because they show Khomeini's legacy is
complicated, as it involves the ayatollah courting two US presidents behind
the scenes. They illustrate a pattern of behavior — that Khomeini at critical
moments during his long struggle for an Islamic republic, secretly engaged
what he would call 'the Great Satan'.''
So what that tells us about the Iranian regime? It explains a lot. There are
really no sacred principles about the Islamic Republic's policies. Islam for
them is just a banner. The destruction of Israel is a rallying cry. The hate
for Jews is an empty gesture.
It is just politics — cold, realistic and pragmatic. The West, the US and
France, were needed at one point, so Khomeini played the nice guy. Once in
power, he had to feed the angry public with something. Instead of providing a
better life, he chose an easier way. The sacred revolutionary fire needed
enemies. The unity of the country needed dangers. The energy of the people
needed cause. First it was the Great Satan, then came the eight-year war with
Iraq, and all along it was the exportation of the revolution, terrorism and
Today, the same constitution that stipulates the exportation of Shiite Islam
and the supreme rule of the religious leadership, stands as it is. Therefore,
there is no way any government, no matter what it promises to its people and
the world, can defy these stipulations.
Let's, then, stop hoping otherwise and deal with Iran, as it irrevocably is,
like the Nazis, Fascists and Marxists — an evil empire!
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at