Iran's 'damaged' president back for UN spotlight

Ahmadinejad

There was a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his annual trip to the United Nations for two big objectives: Basking in the attention of America's media hub and personally delivering the views of the Islamic Republic to Western leaders.

The spotlight seeking is still there. But what's missing this year is any sense that Ahmadinejad is still a trusted messenger for the ruling clerics after trying to expand the limits of his power and being batted down harshly.

"He's damaged", said Ahmad Bakhshayesh, a political affairs professor at Tehran's Azad University. Dubai-based analyst Theodore Karasik sees 'a badly wounded lame duck' arriving in New York for the UN General Assembly session that begins Tuesday.

There's little doubt about Iran's political pecking order these days: Ahmadinejad and his allies are sharply diminished while the theocracy and its protectors -- including the hugely powerful Revolutionary Guard -- are grinding away at any opposition.

This suggests Ahmadinejad's voice may be as booming as ever at the UN -- and in possible side trips around New York -- but his role as an emissary of Iran's ruling system is severely muted.

It adds to the increasing difficulties for Western officials to interpret Iran's moves with international talks stalled over Tehran's nuclear program and key Middle East ally Bashar Assad in Syria locked in a battle for survival against Arab Spring protesters.

The crosscurrent messages were on full display this week over possible negotiations to free two Americans jailed in Tehran as spies. Ahmadinejad said a bail-for-freedom deal could be on the fast track. But Iran's judiciary -- directly controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- quickly slapped him down with a blunt reminder that only the courts have the authority to set a timetable on a possible release.

By the recent standards of Iran's infighting, Ahmadinejad got off easy.

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