On the international stage, leaders of the Islamic republic have shown unwavering support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. But at home, they have not been able to portray a country united over the crisis.
Since the uprising began in Syria, two contradictory pictures have emerged inside Iran of the way it is unfolding. Media outlets affiliated to the regime, like the state-run Keyhan newsapaper or Fars news agency, have mainly reported the official line, introducing Assad as the victim of western and terrorist-led efforts.
On the other hand, independent media who work under intense official censorship, like Etemaad and Shargh newspapers, have managed to report the uprising with relative objectivity, publishing articles on the scale of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown against protesters.
Even conservative figures within the Iranian regime have begun to question Tehran’s support for Assad, implicitly calling upon their seniors to think twice about the man they are supporting.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that a group of Iranian diplomats have joined the public debate over Syria and “publicly questioning whether Tehran should continue supporting Syria’s regime”.
"The entire world is against Syria and we are standing here defending Syria, a country accused of crimes against humanity. We are not playing this game very well," the WSJ quoted Iranian diplomat, Mohamad Ali Sobhani, as saying, citing the semi-official news website, Khabaronline.ir. Sobhani has served as Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan.
Mohamad Shariatai Dehaghanm, another diplomat, who served in Iran’s embassy in Damascus for four years, has described the Syrian uprising as a legitimate popular movement in an interview, the WSJ reported.
"Iran should not do anything in its diplomacy that would put it in a confrontation with the Syrian people. We will pay the price if we continue to encourage violent crackdowns on people," he said in April.
As the circle of the Syrian regime’s allies narrows, Iran appears to be contemplating a backup plan should Assad fall. Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that his country has already contacted the Syrian opposition and is ready to host crisis talks between them and the Syrian government.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to sit down with the Syrian opposition and invite them to Iran," Salehi said in quotes carried by the semi-official Isna news agency. “We are ready to facilitate and provide the conditions for talks between the opposition and the government.”
Despite the supreme leader Aytollah Ali Khamenei and his revolutionary guards’ staunch support for al-Assad, an increasing number of people in the country appear to be asking themselves whether Iran is on the right side of history over Syria.
[July 16 2012]
And then bit old - but one formulation of coordinated transition path - as a log (Not that this will happen likely now. But if not ‘coordinated’ - what kind of further unravelling could continue - even Assad is gone anyway - is a real worry.)