Did Iran just dump Assad?

Iran's Mehr News on Sunday published the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' "six-point plan" to supposedly solve the crisis in Syria.

The plan goes much further than Iran has publicly in the past, though it resembles Kofi Annan's much-maligned plan from the spring. It also doesn't mention one key point: What happens to Bashar al-Assad?

Here's where it gets more interesting. Apparently, Syrian vice president Farouk al-Sharaa has given an interview to Lebanon's al-Akhbar newspaper, which has generally taken a neutral line or one sympathetic to Assad. “We must be in the position of defending Syria’s existence. We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime," Sharaa reportedly said. Now which individual could he be talking about?

Sharaa, oft mooted as a transitional figure, has been the subject of an impressive number of rumors on Syrian opposition websites over the last year or so -- sometimes these have him defecting from the regime, sometimes he and his family members are killed, and so on.

But apparently he's still alive, and now seems to be positioning himself as some kind of transitional leader, or at least as a broker between the regime and the rebels.

“The opposition with its different factions, civilian, armed, or ones with external ties, cannot claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian People, just as the current rule with its ideological army and its confrontation parties lead by the Baath, cannot achieve change without new partners,” al-Akhbar quotes him as saying.

He continues: “The solution has to be Syrian, but through a historic settlement, which would include the main regional countries, and the member of UN Security Council. This settlement must include stopping all shapes of violence, and the creation of a national unity government with wide powers." The full interview will be posted Monday, the paper says.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that these two stories both came out today. The al-Akhbar interview could be a fake. And it's important to remember that the Iranian Foreign Ministry doesn't always speak for the supreme leader. But it sure does look like Iran isn't ready to make a last stand with Bashar, eh?

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Bloggingheads and the Japanese election

On Sunday, Japan went to the polls and elected the right-wing Abe Shinzo as prime minister. Japan also bestowed a surprisingly large number of seats to the party of far-right contender Ishihara Shintaro, who thinks that French doesn't deserve to be an international language and who told a Playboy Magazine interviewer in 1990 that the extensively documented Rape of Naking was "made up" by the Chinese. On Friday, I spoke with Yuki Tatsumi, a security expert at the DC-based think tank The Stimson Center: Yuki described Ishihara as a cross between Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, and discussed the implications of the election for Japan's relationship with China and the United States. Video below:

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