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Iran Snap Analysis: Syria and Ahmadinejad --- Sifting Reality from Propaganda over the Erdoğan Visit 

In the aftermath of the two-day visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, what is significant is far beyond any "news" that has been printed.

The Iranian media who have covered the event have worked off handouts, from the Supreme Leader's office and others within the Executive. So what we have are the standard photographs and the dime-a-dozen phrases of "co-operation", especially in trade, "bilateral relations", and "the Americans recognise no nation as independent". There are, at least in the sanctioned words from Iranian mouths, the denunciations of the "Zionist regime". 

No press conferences were held after Erdoğan's meetings, and the Turkish leader only has a cameo appearance at the end of the Iranian press releases. (He did get a spotlight on Iranian television, but used it only to put out the diplomatic headline --- at least the headline in the State news agency --- that "all countries have the right to nuclear technology".) So foreign media are pretty much left with nothing to cover, that is, until and unless someone from inside the Turkish camp decides to give a snapshot of what happened behind closed doors.

So what can be sifted from the staged presentation? Well, here are a couple of possibilities.


In the Iranian scripts, there are some phrases about Tehran's right to enrich uranium --- a line reinforced by the presentation of Erdoğan's word on State TV --- but little to illuminate the forthcoming talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers, probably in Istanbul, in mid-April.

Instead, it is Syria that gets the meaningful treatment. At least publicly, Tehran pointedly slapped down any Turkish attempt at distance from the Assad regime. Consider Press TV's lead:

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei says Tehran categorically opposes any foreign intervention in Syria and supports Damascus for backing the resistance front against Israel.

“The Islamic Republic will defend Syria because of its support for the resistance front against the Zionist regime (Israel) and is vehemently opposed to any intervention by foreign forces in Syrian internal affairs,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the holy city of Mashhad on Thursday. 

The Leader also expressed Iran’s support for the reform process underway in Syria and called for the reforms' momentum to be maintained. 

Privately, of course, the Supreme Leader may have been more amenable to Erdoğan's call for a step back from Damascus if the killing continues and Assad does not "reform", but I do not any hint of that in the signals beyond the meeting. Tehran's open backing of the Syrian regime will continue, and indeed become louder amidst any calls for "intervention". Equally significant, its on-the ground backing --- reported to be advisors in Damascus and logistical support for operations --- does not appear to have been put into question by Erdoğan's visit.


No, if there is a story to be sifted out of these two days, it lies in Iranian domestic politics. What we may have seen --- or rather not seen, in the prepared Iranian statements --- was the eclipse of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 14 months before his term in office finishes.

Wednesday came and went without the scheduled meeting between Erdoğan and the Iranian President. Now perhaps the postponement was because of a bit of Ahmadinejad tummy trouble --- although the declaration of "gastrorrhagia" seemed far too dramatic for that --- but even when the two men appeared in a photograph on Thursday, with a declaration of a 1.5-hour meeting, there were rumblings in the official presentation.

The account put out by State news agency IRNA did not appear for hours after the Turkish press put out a statement --- necessarily limited because of the lack of access to the two men, apart from the official picture --- about the encounter. And not all Iranian media were eager to note the event: as far as I can tell, Fars, the outlet linked to the Revolutionary Guards, never put Ahmadinejad with Erdoğan on its homepage. 

In the official Iranian statement on IRNA, there was also a notable omission. Amidst the stock phrases about co-operation, the nuclear issue had a token mention, but --- in contrast to the treatment of the Supreme Leader's meeting with Erdoğan --- Syria did not appear.

Put bluntly, if Ayatollah Khamenei refused to detach himself from President Assad, he and other key regime figures were quite happy to deatch President Ahmadinejad from foreign affairs. Two weeks before the resumption of nuclear talks and amidst the manoeuvres over the United Nations "peace plan" for Syria, Mahoud was reduced to a bystander brought on for a snapshot without substance. 

This morning, the Supreme Leader is still atop the homepages of Iranian outlet, including the Fars website that snubbed the President. Ahmadinejad is nowhere to be found.

And it may in that visual image, rather than the carefully-formed words put out yesterday, that the Erdoğan visit has left its mark --- not in the international stage, but on the battleground of Iranian politics.

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