Iran Tea-Leaf Reading

Tea-leaf reading is about all we can do, after all. But having said that, this Noah Millman exercise in that fine art (via Andrew Sullivan) is a solid primer in terms of which moves to watch in the internal power struggle currently being decided in Tehran.

Two thoughts. First, Le Monde is “reporting” (I put that in quotes given how uncertain the situation on the ground is) that Mir Hossein Moussavi has called on his supporters to cancel the planned opposition demonstration today, after supporters of the regime scheduled a counter-rally in the same location one hour prior. The decision to avoid the almost-certain street violence that would have resulted suggests one of two things. Either Moussavi is not sure he has the support necessary to gain an advantage from such confrontations, or else he is confident that time is on his side.

I suspect that if the regime decides it can’t afford a pitched battle, some sort of institutional accomodation will be reached, whereby Ahmdinejad retains the presidency, but the reformists are offered either a new institutional pole of power, or else control over an existing one. At that point, it will become a lot clearer what the actual agenda of the reformist leaders really is. Short of that, though, either one side backs down, or the dispute will be settled by violence.

The second thought concerns the impact the election aftermath might have on the regime’s legitimacy abroad. A lot has been said about regional reaction among Arab nations, but none of them had any illusions about the nature of the regime in Tehran to begin with. More significant is that after initial reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had canceled his SCO side-meeting with Ahmadinejad this morning, RIA Novosti is now reporting that the two did in fact meet. Russia had already declared that the Iranian elections are “an internal affair of the Iranian people.” So any prospect that this might shift the lines in terms of the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program seems unlikely.