In our Syria Live Coverage, we report on United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's visit to Tehran today. Far more interesting than the expected statements of Annan --- there is hope for a cease-fire; Iran can be "part of the solution" --- and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi is this news:
A top advisor to the Iranian parliament speaker said
that Iran has contacted the Syrian opposition.
"Iran has recently made contacts with the Syrian opposition, which shows Iran's influential role in resolving issues facing Syria," said Hossein Sheikholeslam, the Iranian parliament speaker's advisor on international issues.
"Iran has influence on (Syrian) national forces and the Syrian government and can persuade certain regional countries to accept its views," he stated.
Why is this more interesting than the Annan set-piece?
1. It indicates that some within the Iranian regime are seeking a position beyond the simple support for the "reforms" of President Assad. The significance of "contacts" with the opposition --- and how high up it is supported within the regime, including by the Supreme Leader --- remains to be seen.
It is unlikely, however, that there will be any shift in the Islamic Republic's position of general backing of Assad --- what does it gain from giving that up? --- unless there is some movement in the nuclear talks starting on Saturday. If Tehran gets some rapprochement with the "West" on the nuclear issue, with the prospect of the easing of sanctions, then it may be amenable to the beginning of talks with international actors over the Syrian crisis. This would include, as former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has advised, the US. It would also include --- as Larijani's spokesman indicates above --- "certain regional actors" like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
2. The immediate significance, however, is on the domestic front.
This statement is part of the general contest between Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and President Ahmadinejad for authority. Larijani, with allies in Parliament and the judiciary, has launched a serious attack on Ahmadinejad and his inner circle --- see today's Iran Live Coverage --- and this declaration adds the message: I have influence outside Iran as well as inside it.
Put bluntly, it is not the Presidential rule of Bashar al-Assad that is in question here. It is that of Ahmadinejad, and Syria just happens to be a very big pawn in the effort to put him in check.