Monday, October 22, 2007

EF Putin

This article from Asia Times Online's Kaveh Afrasiabi on the recent shuffling in Iran's nuclear negotiating team raised my spirits a bit:

Various commentators, especially in Europe and the United States, have been quick in interpreting Larijani's resignation as a "bad omen" reflecting a triumph for hardliners led by Ahmadinejad. But that is simplistic and ignores a more complex reality in the Iran's state affairs (sic). The quest for greater centralization of nuclear decision-making has met a contradictory response in, on the one hand, the move for more direct input by Khamenei, and, on the other hand, a parallel effort by Ahmadinejad to gain greater control of decision-making.

Afrasiabi explains that Iran's factional infighting on the nuclear dossier threatens to seriously weaken its negotiating posture by creating confusion and paralysis. It's not all good news, because derailed or frozen negotiations can lead to a lose-lose outcome on the actual conflict. It is reassuring, though, to hear that there are weaknesses in the Iranian position in light of how clumsy our own handling of the crisis has been. But that's not all:

According to veteran political analyst Davood Hermidas Bavand, the real reason for Larijani's resignation can be found in the failure of the government's "eastern approach" that naively banked on support from China and Russia in the nuclear row, despite Moscow and Beijing's role in supporting sanctions resolutions at the UN Security Council. "Larijani's resignation is his objection to the strategy laid out by the government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad," Bavand insists.

If Bavand is correct, Larijani is skeptical that Iran can count on Russian and Chinese support when the chips are down, an analysis seconded by Steve Clemons in this post on The Washington Note:

There has been a lot of movement in recent days on Iran's nuclear program. Days after Defense Secretary Bob Gates met with Vladimir Putin, Putin is in Tehran meeting with Khamenei. And in the midst of these meetings, Gates states that a new course in Iran's nuclear plans that might move its nuclear reprocessing requirements into Russia would curtail the need, possibly, for the US to deploy intermediate range missiles is Europe.

There has been fragile but real deal making going on -- and it is progress on this front that Larijani wanted to have the government announce -- but Ahmadinejad refused.

Toss in Olmert's lightning visit to Moscow and it looks like there's a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering taking place. The kind of maneuvering that makes Iran seem more like a prop being used by the big kids on the block to hammer out their arrangement than a tipping point in global power alignments.

One thing the past week does demonstrate very clearly, though, is that when Vladimir Putin gets pissed, people pay attention.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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