Almost 37 years to the day that radical students overran the U.S. Embassy in Iran, the Islamic republic's supreme leader sat with students Wednesday and delivered a blistering tirade against American society, politics and foreign policy. He reserved special condemnation for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and said this year's election was a symptom of America's decline.
“These two candidates show the catastrophic reality which goes beyond what even we were saying,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who regularly speaks out against perceived U.S. imperialism and double standards. He has been steadfast in refusing to negotiate directly with the United States, even during momentous deliberations leading to a nuclear deal signed last year.
Khamenei said he had watched the presidential debates and found the two candidates' comments to be “sufficient for the annihilation of the reputation of the United States.”
“Their statements are proof of the destruction of human values in the United States,” he said.
The Iranian government is not a beacon of human rights. It regularly detains journalists and activists on trumped-up charges, often resulting in long sentences. Just recently, an Iranian American businessman and his father were arrested on suspicion of spying and sentenced to 10 years. Another dual citizen was given 18 years on charges of spying and blasphemy.
Relations between Iran and the West have thawed slightly since the signing of the nuclear deal. Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, has pledged to keep working toward improved relations.
But Rouhani has voiced his own opinion on the American election, too. Last month, he said the two main candidates are “bad and worse” without specifying which was which.
Khamenei's verbal lashing was not confined to the political candidates. He seemed to be particularly disturbed by instances of racial hatred that have come to the fore through the election's divisive rhetoric.
“The trampling of human values and human rights, racial discrimination and racism are the reality in American society,” he said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Khamenei reserved his harshest words in an already blustery speech for U.S. negotiators who have sought to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions. He described them as “liars, untrustworthy, deceitful and backstabbers.”
“Negotiating with the United States will not solve the problems. First, because they lie, they don't respect their commitments, trick others,” he said. “And secondly, because the United States is itself in crisis.”