The overwhelming vote in Iran’s parliament to elect Ali Larijani as Speaker seems a clear sign that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is out of favor with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. As the Times notes, Larijani is a less demonstrative–and less populist–conservative than Ahmadinejad and also a favorite of the Supreme Leader. A Bush administration spokesman took the familiar hard line, with a distinction that might be of some use to John McCain as he continues his efforts to figure out whom the real leader of Iran is:
In Washington, a senior administration official said that the real decision-maker in Iran was still Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious leader.
“Unfortunately, the election of Mr. Larijani as parliamentary speaker is simply a continuation of the existing regime,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue. “Whether he and Ahmadinejad get along is irrelevant. He’s still fully supportive of all of their policies with which we disagree.”
It is entirely possible that Khamenei is setting up Larijani as a less radioactive, more professional interlocutor for future talks with the Americans. I’m also wondering if this is a sign that Larijani will run against Ahmadinejad for president in 2009…Now there’s a presidential campaign–hint, hint, my beloved editors–that I’d love to cover.