Today Stratfor is reporting that on Thursday President Vladimir Putin met with a high ranking envoy from Tehran to receive a direct message from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. However, the envoy wasn’t the usual Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki or National Security Chief Ali Larijani – it was Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister of Iran, and one of the closest people to the Ayatollah. By sending a formerly inactive envoy of such high standing, many observers believe that Khamenei has brushed aside the technocrats and taken on a much larger role in guiding Iran’s foreign policy. If the United States depends upon Russia to be the interlocuter for their relationship with Iran, Russia will be sure to use that leverage to its advantage. Ali Akbar Velayati Stratfor writes:
Velayati’s sudden return to the diplomatic arena, especially when U.S.-Iranian dealings over Iraq are reaching an impasse, is a sign that Khamenei has decided to directly take over foreign policy matters. It also means the executive branch has been asked to confine itself to the more mundane matters of governance. This is why it is Velayati who has been dispatched on a special mission involving Russia. Moscow has been able to mediate between the United States and Iran — a role the Kremlin thinks will help it to advance its own interests. The Russians have offered to help the United States get out of Iraq if Washington cuts back in its support of anti-Moscow elements in Ukraine. Such mediating also gives Russia an enormous amount of international clout. Aware that the Iraq issue cannot be solved without Iranian help, and knowing that directly dealing with Tehran is not something that will sit well domestically for the Bush administration, Washington has likely taken Russia up on the offer. That said, there is another critical issue that weighs heavily in the U.S. decision to accept Russia as a go-between — Moscow has recently sold the TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Tehran and the Kremlin are also negotiating the sale of the Russian S300 missile. This is something the United States does not want to see realized because these missiles would make it difficult for U.S. warplanes to conduct airstrikes against Iran, should Washington ever take the military option in dealing with Iran. … Larijani, who also reports directly to Khamenei, will attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Feb. 9-11 in Germany. World leaders including Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will also be in attendance. Larijani said Thursday that he will be holding talks with several Western officials. Since Gates dealt with the Iranians during the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s and also was involved in the Iraq Study Group that recommended that Washington approach Iran diplomatically on Iraq, a Gates-Larijani discussion on the sidelines of the conference is not out of the question, though it likely would be through middlemen. Regardless of what happens in Munich, it appears as though a serious and complex diplomatic game involving the United States and Iran is under way.