By Claude Salhani
Thirty-five years after Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini overthrew the shah and the Pahlevi dynasty, creating the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country remains steadfast and on the same path envisioned by its founder. Indeed, Iran has not deviated one iota from the plans as setout by the instigators of the revolution.
From the start of the revolution, its leaders learned that in order to survive and keep moving forward, the Islamic revolution, much like any revolution, needs an enemy. Having the shah and Iranians opposed to the regime was not enough. The shah fled the country and died soon after, and the opposition was hanged, killed, shot, and forced into exile. The revolution needed an enemy that would give it momentum and turn any points marked against it into glorious victories.
They needed a big time foe - a "great Satan" -- to fire up the masses and on whom to blame all the ills of the republic. And who better to blame than the United States, a country that had supported the shah and his oppressive methods? A country that had trained the dreaded Savak, the often ruthless secret police.
Much of the main policy lines were explained by Ayatollah Shariat Madari, a moderate follower of Khomeini, whose disciples helped smuggle this reporter into the besieged city of Qom at the time of the revolution.
Indeed, looking back at the conversation with the Iranian leader 35 years ago it is clear that the Islamic Republic has not deviated from its policy projections. Rather, it is the West that has changed its policies vis-à-vis Iran.
From the very start relations with the United States got off to a disastrous start. Iranian "students" stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and kept 52 American embassy personnel hostage for 444 days. Relations worsened when President Jimmy Carter authorized an attempt by a Delta Force unit that met with disaster when a helicopter collided with a transport plane, killing eight members of the team and forcing the mission to be aborted.
Then came the Iran-Iraq war, a conflict that lasted eight years, in which Iran lost nearly half-a-million men. The fact that the United States supported Iraq during the war did little to help relations between Tehran and Washington. Many of the casualties were caused by chemical weapons provided by the United States to Saddam Hussein. Very probably that had much to do with Iran's decision to acquire nuclear capability. And if there was still any doubt left the U.S. invasion of Iraq took care of that.
In a speech marking the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hit back at Western assertions that a military solution to a nuclear dispute with Tehran remained an option and pledged that Tehran would press on "forever" with peaceful atomic research.
Rouhani classified economic sanctions imposed by the West as "brutal, illegal and wrong," and said countries in the region had nothing to fear from Iran, who the West believes intends to develop a nuclear weapon.
"I say explicitly to those delusional people who say the military option is on the table that they should change their glasses ... Our nation regards the language of threat as rude and offensive," he said.
"I want to expressly announce that the movement of the Iranian nation toward the peaks of scientific and technical progress and advancement, including peaceful nuclear technology, will be forever."
A day earlier Iran test-fired two new domestically made missiles, a gesture of military might ahead of talks next week with world powers to try to reach an agreement on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan as saying on Tuesday that the missile test should be regarded as a proper response to the Western leaders who underline that "all options are on the table."
Secretary of State John Kerry told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television on Jan. 23 that if Tehran did not abide by the interim deal "the military option of the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do."
On Tuesday, Rouhani said that if major powers approached Iran in the nuclear talks seeking mutual interest, respect and cooperation, they would receive a positive and proper response. If their approach was inappropriate, this would be harmful to the region.
Looking back at the 35 years that have elapsed since the shah fled Iran little has changed. Watching crowds in Tehran burn U.S. and Israeli flags and shout "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" feels as though it was only yesterday that the revolution had started.
Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. He is senior editor of the English service of the Trend Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan.