The headlins focus on the inflammatory rhetoric from the president, and John McCain ranted — and exaggerated — yesterday at AIPAC about Iran’s threat to Israel, but, once again, the real news is more subtle, and more promising.

STATE DEPARTMENT officials commonly complain that without an embassy in Iran, the United States cannot decipher the opaque workings of the Islamic Republic. This may be true in a general way, but no classified intelligence sources are needed to grasp the importance of last week’s lopsided election of Ali Larijani to the powerful position of Parliament speaker.

The pragmatic Larijani, a former chief of Iran’s National Security Council and lead nuclear negotiator, has been an outspoken foe of hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His ascension spells a promising power shift within Iran’s faction-ridden political system. Larijani is very much a devotee of that system, but one who makes no secret of his belief that dialogue and deal-making with the West offer the surest means to secure Iran’s national interests.
Larijani is known as a favorite of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His smashing victory in the parliamentary vote suggests that the legislators knew they were doing the will of Khamenei, the ultimate decider in Iran’s theocratic republic.
This tilt toward Larijani suggests that the supreme leader has begun to respond to popular disenchantment with Ahmadinejad. The public’s anger at Ahmadinejad for his disastrous economic policies has now found expression in the upper reaches of Iran’s power elite. Larijani can be expected to castigate Ahmadinejad not only for measures that drive up inflation and unemployment but also for making truculent public statements that increase Iran’s isolation and subject it to crippling banking sanctions.
The best news is that Larijani’s elevation may foreshadow Ahmadinejad’s defeat in the presidential election scheduled for June 2009.
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