The prevalent mood in much of the US media after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's last speech to the United Nations General Assembly was disappointment. It was not disappointment over the lack of any new substance on the nuclear issue or a statement on Syria, but extended lower lips that this was not the combative Ahmadinejad who had taken the stage in past years.
"Muted" was the immediate reaction, with The Washington Post reviewing that the speech was "decidedly less provocative", and thus "less notable". The New York Times, which normally embraces Ahmadinejad as its pantomime villain, did not even give him a leading role, let alone a place its headline --- he had been succeeded by other suspects, "At U.N., Egypt and Yemen Urge Curbs on Free Speech". The Wall Street Journal was slightly bemused by Ahmadinejad's emphasis on religion, with his anticipation of the return of the Hidden Imam, but appeared to be disappointed that he had not denied the Holocaust or called for the elimination of Israel or offered one of his denunciations of homosexuality.
In the end, CNN had to give up on the presentation of a fight, portraying a defensive President, "Ahmadinejad Tells U.N. That Iran is Threatened", and turning a non-event into the story:
European delegates got an unusual reprieve at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday when the Iranian President offered them no reason to get up and walk out, a move that has become a bit of tradition for western delegations.
None of this is to say that the coverage picked up the significance of Ahmadinejad's performances on Wednesday. For it was not at the General Assembly podium that he made his political move --- the call for "global governance" and an end to the domination of the West was well-worn rhetoric, and even if Ahmadinejad believes it, there is little he can do to achieve it --- but in a press conference later in the day.
For it was there that Ahmadinejad not only pursued the theme of co-operation, but made one more attempt to have an impact as President on Iran-US relations. On Tuesday, he had told university students --- in the guise of criticising America's arrogant attitude towards Tehran --- that he hoped for a resumption of talks. He repeated that line to the journalists.
That, rather than the UN speech, was the statement that sparked reaction back in the Islamic Republic. Twenty-six MPs, including heavyweights such as Ahmad Tavakoli and Ali Motahari, have already publicly criticised the President for broaching the idea, and more may follow today.
The stark truth, even if Ahmadinejad does not realise or admit it, is that he is a President on his way out. Part of this is the calendar, with only nine months left in his second and final term, but most of it is the steady eclipse of his attempts at power and authority. Domestically, he was blunted 18 months ago, when the Supreme Leader blocked his move to control the Ministry of Intelligence. He has almost been scuttled since then by Iran's declining economy, for which opponents will blame the mismanagement of his Government's and tarnished centrepieces such as the subsidy cuts programme.
A year ago in New York -- again, away from the General Assembly but interviews --- Ahmadinejad had tried to claim centre-stage with a proposed breakthrough on the nuclear issue. Give us a guaranteed supply of 20% uranium, he said, and we will not have to enrich to that level.
Ironically, that is the same offer that has been on the table for the Western powers in this year's talks from Istanbul to Baghdad to Moscow to private dinners in Turkey. But Ahmadinejad is not directly the Iranian negotiations; he is merely observing as others --- from the Supreme Leader's office to the Foreign Ministry --- make and implement the decisions.
In an unexpected way, this was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's last cry of "Notice Me". Not through the podium-thumping condemnation of the Zionist regime to the past or the questioning of 9-11 as the work of Al Qa'eda or an absurdity of "There Are No Homosexuals in Iran". This was through one last quest for relevance through diplomacy.
Will the US Government and the 5+1 Powers notice? Possibly. Will they respond? Probably not.
Will Ahmadinejad's friends and foes within the Iranian system notice? Definitely. Will those who are really in charge be moved? Probably not. At most, the President was carrying a message from higher authority. Any attempt by Ahmadinejad to reclaim th lead on policy and strategy will be quashed.
Mahmoud, exit stage left.