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Iran Snap Analysis: "Game-Changers" from Mousavi and Ahmadinejad

UPDATE 0905 GMT: We have now posted the full English translation of Mousavi's statement.

UPDATE 0900 GMT: An intervention from an EA reader: "Mousavi 'had been accused of being too reticent, cautious, and even compromising toward the regime at the end of 2009' almost exclusively by Iranians abroad. Almost unanimously, those inside Iran have understood the game he is been playing and the domestic rules under which he's had to operate."

In sports, a "game-changer" is a play by an individual that changes the course of a match: a 30-yard (27-metre, if you must) strike in football, a three-point play in basketball, a crushing hit in ice hockey.

Well, both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to become game-changers on Tuesday. Mousavi's statement on his website Kalemeh, given in the form of answers to questions, was one meant to build up strength throughout the day. That it did --- it received prominent and, in most cases, accurate coverage in almost every media outlet, and the message was clear: a politician who had been accused of being too reticent, cautious, and even compromising toward the regime at the end of 2009 was now standing tough. More importantly, he was calling on the Green movement protesters to take to the streets --- within the law, but loudly and forcefully --- to challenge a Government of "dictatorship" and "tyranny".

Iran Special: Full Text of Mousavi Declaration for 22 Bahman (2 February)
Iran Document: The Rallying Call of Mousavi’s 14 Points (2 February)
The Latest From Iran (3 February): Picking Up the Pace
The Latest from Iran (2 February): A Quiet Start to An Unquiet Day

Ahmadinejad's move will release less notice amongst opposition activists. We poked fun at a "Fox News military analyst" yesterday who said the President might test a nuclear device on 22 Bahman, the anniversary of the Revolution. We did not know that he would try something far different. With his offer last night to send Iran's 3.5-percent uranium outside the country in exchange for 20-percent stock, the President was reversing a line that had been maintained for months. Iran would no longer inside that a swap had to take place inside its borders.

That is a major shift, and it remains to be seen why Ahmadinejad made his move (and note that he made it in a hastily-called interview on national television), as well as signalling that there was talks about trading three US detainees for Iranian prisoners held abroad. The immediate speculation would be that there have been behind-the-scenes talks with brokers such as Turkey; the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US had both signalled in recent days that a deal was still on the table. At the same time, although the President is staying clear of the internal crisis in his public comments and actions, I have to wonder if he has also made this unexpected move to try and grab some "legitimacy" before 11 February.

Now, however, Ahmadinejad may have renewed the fight, but with "conservatives" within the establishment. It was the challenge of high-profile politicians like Ali Larijani that derailed the President's autumn efforts at a nuclear deal to shore up his position. So keep eyes wide open as to how Larijani and his Parliamentary allies react and even if the Supreme Leader offers any signals.

Eight days to 22 Bahman.

Reader Comments (8)

Re. “That is a major shift, and it remains to be seen why Ahmadinejad made his move...”

Is it not to regain some initiative? For a long while the establishment has been reacting to events. Even the arrests and trials are reactions rather than initiative. In many cases the reactions have failed to achieve anything. For example the burning of Khomeini photos on 16 Azar came to nothing and it was announced yesterday that the last of the students (who are BTW first year non-political students) arrested to as part of that project has been released without charge.

Al most all the reactions by the regime have been negative. The only positive reaction they tried to make was the TV “debates” which were with establishment figures. And even those were stopped after one week.

In the non-political issues the regime is in trouble too. There have been many u-turns in the removal of subsidies, and still there is not clear policy for it.

So it could be that by making the announcement, Ahmadinejad is trying to regain the initiative (either for himself or for the whole regime). It looks like whenever there is something that the public can have a hand in it, the IR is incapable of doing anything without encountering serious problems or defeat. With the nuclear issue, they have something which the public does not have much direct control over. So they’re probably trying to get something going there in order to show the people, the world and themselves that they are still in charge.

Also they are probably hoping to lessen the international pressure on themselves and to show the people that the world is with them, not the people and hope that everyone will forget about all the killings, rapes, tortures, etc.

[It also could be that Ahmadinejad thinks that the time when he will be put aside is approaching and he is trying to take the initiative to ensure his own survival within IR or make it very difficult to remove him.]

In any case, the nuclear issue is one of the few cards available to the regime (even executing innocent people has not helped them).

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreeny


That's my reading as well. I was just hedging as there have been some moves on the international front, notably through the Turks.


February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas

and why not the increasing threats of sanctions and military build up being too much for their economic and social problems ?

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpessimist

Scott, Greeny,

Thanks for your explanations to AN's new move in the uranium enrichment case. I beg to differ, especially with regard to all the skeptical international reactions. As German FM Westerwelle put it "Iran has to be measured by its actions, not by what it says." IMHO this move is a mere manoeuvre to buy time and reduce international pressure until 22 Bahman.
No reactions from the hardline camp so far, but Kalemeh is already attacking AN: "Bribery has started; retreat in the nuclear case despite all slogans"

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArshama


Interesting point. If this is to buy time until 22 Bahman, why buy time until 22 Bahman?

Are they hoping (as that Fox News analyst said) to test a nuclear bomb by then? (Mohsen Sazegara was a saying a while ago that Sepah commanders were promising SL that they’ll test a nuclear bomb for him by 22 Bahaman. He was saying they won’t be able to do it, but I can see where the Fox News analyst may have got his info.)

Or are they hoping to buy time until then and suppress the protests and arrest Mousavi & co? What hope do they have for such a move to succeed when all other similar moves have failed miserably?

I can’t see how they’d take such a risky gamble if it was only to buy time for one week. (Mind you I didn’t think they were stupid enough to kill people on Ashura, but they were that stupid)

I could see it as taunting the public by saying, look it doesn’t matter what you say or want you want, we are even sucking up to the Americans, so you might as well go home and die. Again this is risky too. Remember the Ahmadinejad dirt and dust (Khas o khashak) speech?

It all looks very strange. Scott is talking about the Turkey angel here. While that could be significant as far as the details of any such deal, I can’t see how Turkey would be able to help IR internally.

It could be down to what pessimist is saying: international threats and pressure coupled with the internal pressure is taking a serious toll on the regime. They can’t seem to be able to control the internal pressure, so are trying to reduce the international pressure at great internal cost. Maybe in their assessment, they have no hope of getting anything right internally, so to hell with internal politics. While IR likes to have foreign military threat to use it as a rallying call and a stick to hit others in the head with, but I suppose too much military threat could distract the Guards from suppressing internal opposition. Also international economic pressure could be leading the few remaining regime supporters (those who have been benefiting a lot financially over the past 4 to 5 years) to be getting upset with SL and Ahmadinejad if they can’t move their money overseas or have their assets frozen in foreign banks.

Re. Kalameh article

The Kalameh article is the same as the line Mousavi took in one of his previous statements re the original Oct 09 agreement. I think the reformists, knowing that SL and Ahmadinejad are on the back foot in many areas, are trying to push them back on this issue to and take the issue from them. Last time it worked (not sure how much of it was to do with the Mousavi statement). I wonder if this time whatever the reformists say is going to have any effect on the nuclear issue (after all it seems that the reformists are actually starting to go after SL himself, why should to SL listen to them in this issue?)

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreeny

Gee maybe it was the ships and missles that change their minds?

Jan 31, 2010 ... The deployment comes after Obama's attempts to emphasise diplomacy ... Israel is the only country in the Middle East to already have atomic ... - Cached

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertruthynesslover

I see points in both Greeny's and Arshama's comments. While I am not certain AN is buying time until 22 Bahaman it may be a repeat of history in international political matters to stall talks as much as possible. With that said, as Scott points out, this recent statement is not much different that the statements by AN and his administration this fall. Initiative...maybe or maybe it is another attempt to gain some internal credibility or perhaps is another blatant "you dont control me" to the SL, clerical elite and conservatives/principalists in the A Larijani "clan".

The comments by the FM today regarding Iran (in EA's blog posts) was interesting to me. As was pointed out in the EA blog, it does seem Turkey had a hand in the recent statement, the reasons why escape me, aside from the continuation of the quest by Turkey to be a major player and to serve as the liason between the West (eg US and EU) and the ME (e.g. Iran, Syria). Call me skeptical but I do not think this is the only reason (note I have little knowledge about Turkish politics or culture). Either way, this was very interesting to me.

The Kalemeh article is expected in my mind given past comments by Mousavi as Greeny points out...however it is still worth noting. Thank you to Arshama for sharing.


February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBijan

I'll take a stab at this, even though I am somewhat concerned that my recent round-the-clock busyness at work has caused me to miss something significantthat would affect my assessment of this...

The Mousavi statement, to me, is absolutely stunning. As the English translations slowly dripped out, I found myself staring at the screen, marveling at how groundbreaking what Mousavi had written was. It is unique in so many ways compared to his previous statements, that I can't even begin to get started here. But suffice to say, it is the first time that Mousavi has spoken in terms that are likely to be truly palatable to many Iranians in the diaspora who had to flee their country over the years. It also has become clear to me that while Mousavi still technically favors "the Islamic Republic", the Islamic Republic that he envisions is so vastly different from the current one, that they might as well be two different governments. It would be the same in name only. For the first time, he has clarified that his aim is to achieve what he believes the Iranian Revolution *was supposed* to achieve, as opposed to anything it actually *has* achieved so far. To me, that truly opens the floodgates.

The Ahmadinejad statement, not so much. Firstly, this government has had a pattern over the years of saying different things at different times, or reversing itself. To hear it do so once again in the case of the nuclear agreement is, frankly, a little suprising but hardly shocking. After all, this would be the second, not the first, reversal on this topic. Secondly, there is evidence that this was Ahmadinejad's position all along. It appeared to me that he was originally in favor of the agreement, and was forced to reverse himself primarily by virtue of drawing opposition from every side, from conservatives to reformists to the Supreme Leader. So, what is so shocking if, months later in a slightly different climate, he reasserts his underlying belief? Thirdly, Ahmadinejad is not the most sincere fellow in the world. Would you equate complete reversals in what he says with a similar reversal, by, say, Karroubi? Finally, I'm not sure how important it is that Ahmadinejad favors the agreement. If all the same people still oppose the agreement, then he's going to have trouble moving forward with it again. In particular, the SL was against it, and last I checked the SL still had virtually unlimited veto power over foreign policy.

So for all those reasons, I hardly equate Ahmadinejad's move with Mousavi's.

I would not envy Obama's position in trying to decide what to do if the Iranian regime does move forward with the agreement. I suppose my prinicipal advice to him would be "first, do no harm", that is, don't do anything that is going to harm the chances of success of the green movement. What I hope Obama understands is that the problem he's trying to deal with is not really that Iran could have nukes. Rather, it is that *a fanatical regime* could have nukes. If the Iranian people had a truly representative government, the fact that Iran had The Bomb would not really be that big a deal. Plus, for all we know, a Green government might, like South Africa, discard any work that has been done on a nuclear bomb (assuming such work has actually been done.)


February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Scott

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