Iran’s Power Struggle Opens the Door to Talks

An intense power struggle at the top levels of Iran’s government, along with tough sanctions and the threat of US or Israeli military action, may make a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program slightly more possible.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the populist president who infamously denied the Holocaust and vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, is fighting for his political life against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the ultimate power in the theocratic dictatorship.

Ayatollah Ali Khameini vows to retaliate against oil sanctions. Photo: UPI

In “elections” held two weeks ago, Khameini’s supporters won 75% of the seats in the Majlis, a rubber-stamp parliament that gives Iran the veneer of representative government. Ahmadinejad effectively becomes a lame duck.

The two have been feuding for years, but lately tensions have reached the boiling point. Analyst Hamid Farahvashian told Reuters: “The vote showed that there is a deepening rift between the ruling elites.”

Meanwhile, tough western sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy badly, and even tighter sanctions are coming.

On Tuesday, Khameini said Iran would increase internal production to offset the output lost to the sanctions and vowed to “attack on the same level as the enemies attack us” if Israel or the U.S. try to take out its nuclear facilities. That could set the stage for a new Middle East war.

Iranian war games in the Strait of Hormuz in January 2012. Photo: UPI/Ali Mohammadi

But he also said, “We do not have nuclear weapons and we will not build them.” That has been the Iranian government’s official policy as it has steadily increased its nuclear capabilities.

Israel has clearly stated it’s prepared to attack those facilities soon if Western sanctions don’t stop Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama recently said he would “not hesitate to use force” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but he has been pushing Israel to wait for sanctions and diplomacy to work.

In rare praise, Khameini called the president’s restraint “good talk and shows an exit from illusion.” But he had to see the iron fist inside the velvet glove.  Earlier this month, Iran said it would reopen nuclear talks with the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

We’ve seen this movie before, so the resumption of talks should be taken with a huge barrel of salt. But Iran’s position in the region is weakening. Its closest ally, Syria, is on the verge of civil war. Former ally Hamas has quietly backed away from Iran and aligned with the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas.

And the US and Israel’s good cop/bad cop routine, intentional or not, may be working. The mullahs have made deals with the Great Satan before, most notably the release of the hostages from the US embassy on the cusp of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981.

There’s a small chance they may deal again now. And if they do, Khameini’s victory over Ahmadinejad in the internal power struggle has made it slightly more likely.

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