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Ahmadinejad on his way out?

MOSCOW. (Political scientist Ilgar Velizade for RIA Novosti) - One year from now Iran will hold presidential elections. Political changes are not frequent in that country, but each of them is invariably associated with the major political event of a five-year period.

This time that applies to a recent article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. It was written by one of the most influential Iranian politicians, Ali Akbar Velayati, who served as Iran's foreign minister for almost 17 years. Although Velayati has not played a prominent political role in the last few years, he has retained his political influence as a diplomatic advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader.

In his article, Velayati writes that from now on Khamenei will himself conduct talks on the nuclear program. In other words, he has relieved Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of this responsibility. Velyati says the Iranian leader's decision was prompted by the need to search for compromise over Iran's nuclear program.

Velayati makes it clear that Iran is fully prepared to revise the main provisions of the president's foreign policy. He quoted Khamenei as saying that global peace rests on the recognition of sovereignty and respect for international borders. This is a clear indication that Khamenei is not going to "erase Israel from the face of the Earth." He believes that the "political future of major countries in the region should be decided at democratic elections, and that their results should be accepted and respected if Muslims, Jews, and Christians take part in them as free citizens."

Many analysts believe that this statement confirms Tehran's official position on recognition of Israel, formulated by former President Mohammad Khatami. That position essentially says that if Palestinians vote for a peace treaty based on a two state solution, Iran will join the Palestinians and, hence, may recognize Israel.

Although Khamenei's decision to assume responsibility for foreign policy is surprising at first sight, there are several possible explanations.

First, Iran is preparing the ground for dialogue with the new U.S. president, and wants to start from a blank slate on all key problems. In this way, Tehran may gain time to make a breakthrough in its nuclear program while simultaneously reducing tensions with Israel.

Second, the Iranian leader has launched preparations for next year's presidential elections. He has got his timing right (the polls are twelve months away), and by choosing one of the most prominent aspects of Ahmadinejad's policy he has deprived the president of a considerable part of his powers.

Who will replace Ahmadinejad, and will the successor continue his mission? These questions are becoming increasingly urgent.

Several figures who represented Iran in the world arena several years ago have reemerged on the domestic political scene. One of them is Ahmadinejad's old associate Ali Larijani, former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Once Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, he had to leave Ahmadinejad's team because of disagreements with his former boss. When the results of parliamentary elections were counted in Iran last spring, bets were placed on Larijani, who positioned himself as a neo-conservative. He was supposed to help if the ruling regime started losing popularity before the presidential elections.

Now that scenario seems to be unfolding. Though it is notoriously difficult to draw direct parallels in Iran, Larijani, who is already the speaker of parliament, is likely to play an increasingly important role.

Whatever else, it is clear that Ahmadinejad is gradually losing influence on the world stage. Time will show whether he will leave the political scene altogether.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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