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The Latest from Iran (14 December): Tehran Loses Another Friend?
1321 GMT: All-is-Well Alert. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij militia, has claimed that more than 20,000 people, given the proper "guidance", have repented for the errors of their protests after the 2009 Presidential election.
1317 GMT: Elections Watch. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has warned an audience of students and scholars in Qom that "some people are trying to inflame" the discussion over forthcoming Parliamentary elections to carry out "political fraud".
1312 GMT: "Supreme Leader? It's the Queen." A member of Parliament's National Security Committee has told an audience at Amir Kabir University about British officials "begging" for reconsideration after Parliament passed a bill downgrading relations with London: "Even the Queen of England contacted us and implored us" to change the legislation.
1302 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. While others appearing to be handling Irna's foreign policy (see 0705 GMT), President Ahmadinejad continues to promote his challenge to the "enemy" on his provincial tour. On Wednesday, he told "bullying nations" to adjust their attitudes, and he followed up in Dehdasht in western Iran today, “For years you have addressed the Iranian nation in a rude, arrogant and insulting manner but have you gained anything with such malicious attitude? You had better reconsider your manners with respect to the Iranian nation and [appropriately] adjust them."
1254 GMT: Drone Watch. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani tries to keep the story moving, “The Americans must offer explanations for the presence of their reconnaissance aircraft within Iranian borders rather than demanding the return of their spy drone from the Islamic Republic. The Americans say their drone entered Iran's airspace by mistake, but we have detailed information about the flight range of this drone.”
And Mehr reports from an "informed source" Iran plans to display several US and Israeli spy drones in the near-future for journalists and foreign ambassadors.
The source said Iran has four Israeli and three US drones.
1248 GMT: Budget Watch. ILNA confirms the story, reported in Wednesday's LiveBlog, that the Supreme Audit Court is referring claims of unlawful action by the Ahmadinejad Government --- including diversion of $11.2 billion in revenue from oil exports and the sale of Hormozgan Steel --- to the judiciary.
1245 GMT: Priorities Watch. We have now posted two features on Iran's economy, but Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi has identified the real threat to the country: "Profane sites are intended to mislead our youth and adolescents. We must be alert and take appropriate measures to counteract this tactic."
The consortium of oil-producing countries agreed to keep crude output at 30 million barrels per day but left its 12 members to honor that ceiling voluntarily.
That would appear to be a middle ground between Tehran, which wanted lower production to raise prices, and Saudi Arabia, which wanted a collection decision to maintain levels.
The question now --- was it discussed by the Iranian Minister of Intelligence with the Saudi Crown Prince? --- is whether Saudi Arabia will use that maintained production to provide an alternative to Tehran's oil to countries in southern Europe. If so, the European Union may be able to impose a ban on Iranian imports in January.
0705 GMT: We will get to the important dimension of the Iranian economy, with two features posted later morning, but we start --- after Wednesday's information on Iranian-Turkish tensions --- with another foreign affairs story.
Media continue to wonder about this week's visit of Iranian Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi to Saudi Arabia, featuring a meeting with Crown Prince Nayef. The Wall Street Journal tries this explanation: "Iran's diplomatic overture to Saudi Arabia this week appeared designed to smooth over allegations that Tehran had tried to assassinate a top Saudi envoy, suggesting Iran is stepping up efforts to safeguard its role as a key Middle East power player."
There is no doubt, beyond the hyperbolic "role as a key Middle East power player", that Tehran is trying to smooth relations with Riyadh. However, what that entails is still anyone's guess. Moslehi and the Crown Prince, who is also the Saudi Minister of Interior, may have discussed on the plot. But they may have also focused on other questions of security. They may have considered deals on sensitive matters such as Bahrain, where the Saudis have intervened militarily and where the monarchy is always playing the card of Iranian intervention to justify crackdown on protests. They may have even had a chat about the US drone in Tehran.
The immediate point is that no one in the Iranian or Saudi regimes is offering any clues beyond the mantra "discussion of matters of mutual interest".
Amidst the fluttering, there is also a wider and arguably more important dimension, one which goes back to Iranian politics. Start with this question: who sent Moslehi? The logical answer --- given that President Ahmadinejad had tried and failed to assert his control over the Ministry of Intelligence, a long-time fiefdom of the Supreme Leader, and to fire Moslehi this spring --- is that Ayatollah Khamenei's hand is on the mission.
That in turn may expose the limits that Ahmadinejad faces, a year after he tried to assert his direction of foreign policy with the naming of special envoys and the dismissal of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Those limits were also highlighted this week in the Turkish case, when the President appeared to face a pincer movement of both the Supreme Leader's representative Ali Akbar Velayati and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi putting out messages over Iran's attitudes towards Turkey.
So the President finds himself muted on the foreign stage, with the Supreme Leader apparently using others to raise his voice. But that in turn raises yet another question: is it a coherent voice? Consider that, on the one hand, Velayati was speaking harshly about a "secular" Turkey following the mislaid path of Western "liberalism" and, on the other, Salehi was telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that Ankara should not pay to wayward Iranian criticism.
No, forget the easy language of "key Middle East power player". The tougher challenge is to assess who is playing in Tehran and what exactly he is playing at.