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Showdown In Little Tehran

I'm sure most readers have seen this New York Times headline: "REBUKE IN IRAN TO ITS PRESIDENT ON NUCLEAR ROLE." It seems that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, now wants Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "to stay out of all matters nuclear." As with all things in Iranian politics, the move's hard to decipher: Does Khamenei actually want to defuse tensions with the West, or is he just trying to improve Iran's public image? Ever since the United Nations slapped sanctions on Iran last month, Khamenei has stayed rather reticent about his country's nuclear program--only once insisting that the country would relinquish it--and Ali Larijani, the country's chief nuclear negotiator, has also sounded somewhat less inflammatory.

The Guardian had a more detailed report about all this on Tuesday, noting that 150 members of Parliament have sharply criticized Ahmadinejad--both for getting embroiled in a dispute with the UN Security Council and for running the economy into the ground. (Relatedly, Robert Stern, an economist at Johns Hopkins, has recently argued that Iran's oil economy is facing something of a "death spiral.")

It would be easy to read too much into this--no one thinks that Iran's ready to surrender its nuclear program and make nice with the United States just because a bunch of MPs are pissed at Ahmadinejad--but it's a reminder that in some respects, at least, Iran is much like any other country, with its own concerns and political disputes, not just single-mindedly obsessed with the destruction of Israel and the West. The former, recall, is basically the view of those who think the United States ought to try talking with Iran, rather than whatever hostilities the White House is trying to provoke right now. It's also a reminder that Ahmadinejad, however wacky he may be, has much less power than often assumed--and may even be on his way out.

--Bradford Plumer