Two Ways To Read An Iranian News Story

With massive amounts of unconfirmed information floating about on Twitter and unsourced, generally unaccredited sites around the Web, it's difficult to contextualize any news we get out of Iran--especially what's coming from its state-run press. Every statement and action can be taken in different ways, and, without a comprehensive picture of what's going on there from reported sources, it's tough to know which way to choose.

With the arrest of 70 professors and this terrifying report from a CNN caller, we can tell things are bad. But with Mousavi's defiance, the opposition could still be thriving in the face of it.

With that in mind, here are two ways to read a story posted yesterday afternoon on Iran's state-run Press TV, with the headline "Leader: Iran not to give in to pressure."

1. It's a sign that Khamenei is not backing down, that the protesters are failing to make headway in swaying key elements within the regime to their side. Khamenei is not feeling the pressure, and he's not softening. Here's the lede:

Amid protests in the aftermath of Iran's presidential election, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution says the Islamic establishment will never yield to pressure.

And the quote from Khamenei to back it up:

"On the current situation regarding the presidential election, I insist on the implementation of the law. That means we will not take a single step beyond the law. For sure, neither the system nor the people will give in to pressure at any price."

2. The protests are gaining ground, and the Rafsanjani/Mousavi/Khatami reformist axis is winning over elements within the regime and gaining legitimacy in the eyes of those in charge, with clerics and parliamentarians seeing a serious threat to the regime's legitimacy and hold on power. There's an unconfirmed Twitter report that Rafsanjani, Mousavi, and conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaee (who, according to Press TV, withdrew his election complaints) met with the head of Iran's National Security Committee today (which could be good, bad, or neutral for them--it wouldn't be the first meeting between reformists and regime figures), and there was another unconfirmed/anonymously sourced report on Monday that Rafsanjani was "poised to outflank Supreme Leader Khamenei."

The Press TV story story about Khamenei not backing down includes this quote:

Pointing to the complicated responsibilities of executive bodies, Ayatollah Khamenei said the Parliament (Majlis) "should help the government in such a rough journey and must not be too hard on the administration."

And that could mean Khamenei is losing support in Iran's parliament. Or it could be a warning to anyone thinking about turning against him.

"I suspect he's picking up information [that there are some] in the Majis, as there would be, who did not agree with what happened," is how former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Director of Middle East Affairs Robert Hunter, who served under President Carter, reads it.

Given that foreign media have been blocked Iran, and much of what we're hearing comes from unconfirmed sources, it's difficult to contextualize the subtle blend of hard news and pro-regime spin coming out of Iran's state-run press agencies.

We know there is a legitimate power struggle among Iran's political elite, and that Mousavi and Rafsanjani have their supporters both in the public and in the political class. But the margins are unclear: do they have 30 percent support? 45 percent? 51 percent? How close are they, really, to being able to "outflank" the Supreme Leader?

In a sense, there's two ways to read every nugget of information about Khamenei's refusal to back down and the government's hard line: Khamenei is firmly in control and squashing the protest movement, or he's scared and issuing warnings based on intelligence that he's being threatened.