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Iran's Supreme Leader Offers Nod To Environment

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

TEHRAN — Emerging after years of sanctions, Iran appears almost single-mindedly eager to boost its economic growth. Thus a photo op this week of the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei planting and watering a tree, and cited as telling "all" Iranians to care for "green spaces," was a minor newsstand surprise Wednesday around the polluted and congested streets of Tehran.

The Tuesday event was carried in papers like the conservative Kayhan, though with far fewer details than most reports on the Leader's pronouncements.

The brevity shows perhaps both the media's and Ayatollah Khamenei's lack of interest in trees and nature. He did however declare that "attacking" and destroying gardens and forests was "not sensible," nor in the country's interest.

The comments may be belated given the utter neglect and wholesale destruction of the natural world that has characterized Iran since the 1979 revolution: From the disappearance of the gardens of northern Tehran, which have morphed into a concrete jungle altering the capital's climate (smog inversions rather than rain and snow, now characterize its winters), to widespread desertification and overuse of water resources.

Though rare, this was not the first time Ayatollah Khamenei has publicly referred to the impact of environmental damage. He spoke this week about "certain violations" of the country's forests threatening Iran's native tree species, and alluded to persistent reports on the dwindling scale of Iran's ancient forests.

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Zhou Ke/Xinhua via ZUMA
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