Turkish prime minister Erdogan flew back home Wednesday evening after a 2-day visit to Tehran. It was a big deal in all senses of the term. He went to Iran with a large delegation, including three ministers, many businessmen, leaders of Parliament, scads of reporters, and television crews. He met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki, “President” Ahmadinejad, and other ministers. According to Iranians who were involved in the meetings, the two countries reached agreement on many issues, the upshot of which is a considerable tightening of the working alliance between them:
–The creation of a joint airline;
–The creation of a free trade zone along the border;
–Turkish investment (to the tune of some $4 billion) in the Pars field in southern Iran;
–Agreement that each would permit the other’s currency to circulate (a real winner for Iran, whose currency was previously not acceptable in Turkey);
–Favorable prices to the Turks for Iranian oil and natural gas (I am told that the Iranians promised a 50% reduction of market rates! Seems preposterous to me, but we shall see). The Iranians are not known for strictly honoring such deals, but the Turks are entitled to be pleased at any significant reduction;
–A joint power plant of some six thousand kilowatts, to be constructed as soon as possible, powered by (Iranian) natural gas;
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Erdogan visit was the dog that did not bark, namely the failure of any early meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei. It was widely reported that such a meeting would take place; see here , here , here , and here, for example. But as of early afternoon Wednesday, there was not even a quasi-official claim that Erdogan saw Khamenei, not even the sort of “virtual evidence” of Khamenei’s ability to rule that had been put out in recent weeks (a couple of days ago, the web site of the press service ISNA came up with an alleged speech to Hajj pilgrims, but when it turned out to be nearly a year old, it was quickly taken down, as was a reference to “archive photos” of meetings with Senegalese President Wade). I therefore earlier concluded that Khamenei was not well enough for a meeting with Erdogan.
But Khamenei did indeed meet with Erdogan, at the very last minute. The Turkish convoy diverted to the Supreme Leader’s residence en route to the airport, and there was a meeting there, down the hall from the doctors, involving the top members of the Turkish delegation, and both Foreign Minister Mottaki and Ali Larijani from the National Security Council of Iran, in addition to the two principals. The meeting lasted 47 minutes, and Khamenei took the occasion to denounce America as the cause of all the region’s problems. Interestingly, he also talked about the future of Iraq, calling on the Turks to join with Iran and Syria to drive Iraq toward an Islamic Republic. There are photographs and films of the meeting, all genuine so far as I can tell.
So Khamenei is well enough to hold at least one important meeting, and presumably to make decisions. This is the second time in the past three years that he has recovered from a coma. He certainly has great recuperative powers. There is no confirmed evidence of any public or private activity by the supreme leader from October 6th to today; the meeting with Erdogan is the first such event so far as I can tell. He was flown to Tehran on the 6th or 7th, and on the 12th he was taken to a special clinic, where he remained until the 21st, when he was transferred to his residence, along with doctors and medical equipment. We know that Rafsanjani was twice turned away from Khamenei’s palace in Tehran, and there are several statements from leading religious figures to the effect that they tried to talk to the supreme leader, but his “busy schedule” did not permit it.
There are reliable reports that Chinese and Russian doctors were flown to Tehran to attend to Khamenei, who I believe–and reported–went into a coma around the 12th of this month. The first such report of which I am aware (thanks to Enduring America) appeared on Peiknet, a left-wing web site based in Berlin, and associated with the Tudeh (Communist) Party. Today the AP “reported” that Khamenei says that it is criminal to challenge the “results” of the June 12th elections. But he has said this before, many times, and there is no reason to think that he has actually spoken about such things today. Indeed, the precise language that is attributed to Khamenei was actually delivered in June. There is no reference in the AP story to the Erdogan visit, which would logically be an element in any public statement from the supreme leader, so I am sceptical about that report. But then again, the meeting took place at night, at the very end of Erdogan’s trip. This suggests to me that the doctors worked very hard to prepare Khamenei for his appearance, which would otherwise have taken place much earlier.
So I’m sticking to my story: I think the supreme leader is gravely ill, and I believe that eventually we will see direct evidence of his bad health. It is not unusual for such information to be suppressed in Iran. The death of the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was not announced for several days after the event. The regime likes to sort things out before permitting the world to know what has happened. Khamenei is certainly a very sick man, and there is a considerable amount of internal fighting going on over the succession.
Meanwhile, we are a week away from the pending demonstrations of November 4th, the annual excuse for bashing America (it’s the anniversary of the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran thirty years ago). This year, the opposition is calling for a monster demonstration against the regime, and the regime is plainly concerned, perhaps even frightened. This is demonstrated by a leaked Top Secret letter from Alireza Malekian, the Deputy Minister for Press and Dissemination of Information Affairs to the media, warning that there must be no reporting on anything that might “lead to tension…or breach public order.” Here is the full quote:
Given the possibility that groups opposed to the regime may engage in actions on the eve of November 4, the anniversary of the seizure of America’s den of spies, and may deviate public opinion from the ceremonies on the national day of struggle against world arrogance, and given that some domestic political factions, in continuation of the post-presidential election issues, possibly intend to politically exploit the situation and disrupt the peace, following up on past correspondence and stressing that the outcome of the tenth presidential election has been confirmed by official and legal authorities, I request that you refrain from disseminating any news, photo, or topic which can lead to tension in the society or breach public order…
I am told that there are Russian experts in Iran, working with the locals to jam outside transmissions in the runup to the 4th, and block the social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones) that have been such an important tool for the opposition to organize previous demonstrations. But it is significant, I think, that despite various calls for the regime to move against the Green leaders–Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami–nothing of the sort has happened. I think this is because the regime tyrants know that any such move would precipitate open conflict, and I don’t think they are very confident that their security forces will be willing to wage war on their own people, especially if there is reason to wonder if the supreme leader is capable of making the many key decisions that will come up in the near future.
We shall see in the next week.
UPDATE: The head of the Revolutionary Guards this evening issued yet another warning to the Iranian people, telling them not to challenge the regime on November 4th.