Analysis: Power struggle, not nuclear deal, priority for Iranian elite

Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:35am EST
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By Marcus George

DUBAI (Reuters) - Preoccupied with an intensifying domestic power struggle, Iran is unlikely to agree with world powers next week on ways out of a nuclear dispute: Surviving a turbulent period of pre-electoral infighting will be the priority for its faction-ridden elite.

Despite eye-catching suggestions among Iranian policymakers that a more imaginative approach is needed to engagement with its Western adversaries, Iran's electoral calendar may pre-ordain several more months of stasis in the nuclear negotiations set to resume in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

With a presidential election looming in June, the latest round of negotiations, at which world powers will offer relief from some sanctions if Iran curbs activities of potential use in yielding a nuclear weapon, may amount to little more than "holding talks" to at least keep the diplomatic door open.

"Iran is in listening mode. They'll go back to Tehran and look at the offer," said a Western diplomat based in Tehran. "But they're unlikely to discuss issues in depth until the insecurity in the domestic power struggle has been clarified."

A closer look may give Western governments some reason for optimism. Iran's clerical leadership has recently offered signs of interest in closer engagement with them, helping lay the groundwork for Tehran's presence in the former Kazakh capital.

Iran's intelligence ministry published a report on its website last November touting the merits of diplomatic engagement to parry the threat of military action by enemies.

"It is clear that the outbreak of war and resorting to force is so serious and dreadful that the slightest neglect of it is an unforgivable sin," said the report by the ministry, which is controlled by Heydar Moslehi, a close ally of Iran's ultimate political authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"To prevent war different options exist. One of those is the adoption of diplomatic and political policies and the potential of international forums, which is a necessary way forward."   Continued...

Iran's new President Ahmadinejad talks to former president Khatami before taking oath of office during swearing-in ceremony in Tehran. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl