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Compiled by Sunaina Gulati for CNN
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(CNN) -- Ali Larijani, Iran's national security adviser, said in an interview that a U.S. plan to remove "occupation forces" from Iraq would be considered "a sign of change in strategy". The adviser suggests that should this happen, "Iran would extend the hand of assistance and use its influence to help solve the problem."

David Ignatius writing for The Washington Post says the statements from Larijani were the clearest he has heard of how Iran views its role in the region, following what he described as the failure of U.S. intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

"His tone was triumphalist: In his view, America is bogged down in Iraq and "in dire need of change," while a newly confident Iran is positioning itself as a dominant power for the region."

The Asian Age agrees, saying the U.S. needs to engage with Iran selectively. A previous report in 2004 by an independent task force appointed by the Council on Foreign Relations -- that in a way pre-empted the Iraq Study Group report -- offered insightful analysis of the internal situation and policy of Iran. Since 9/11, Bush has shunned all contacts with the country and has resorted to economic boycott, thus helping to strengthen extremist elements.

"The Bush administration conceives the possibility of an internal revolt; and from numerous accounts, has sent its agents inside Iran to foment trouble for the regime. But the task force report cautions the administration that Iran is not on the verge of another revolution. The report admits that there is discontent in Iran and the theocratic leaders debarred a large number of candidates from the election to Parliament which would have undermined their supremacy. Every year about a million youngsters are added to the army of the unemployed. Though the rising price of oil has given a great helping hand, the largely state managed economy has no potential to create enough jobs fast."

Reports don't offer anything new, says the Haaretz of Israel. It argues that anyone who rummages through archives that are already beginning to yellow will find similar statements in 2005, 2004 and even 2003.

"The Baker-Hamilton performance is a huge Hollywood-style production, as is the name of the commission. And in any case, its conclusions have already been trickling out: Train the Iraqis, hand over the reins and start thinning the presence and size of the forces. If it were that simple, it would already have happened a long time ago."

Putin Power

The Los Angeles Times says that there are a lot of ways to make a man's death look like an accident, suicide or a street crime. But in the case of Litvenenko, his killers wanted to send a message: Don't mess with the powers that be in Russia.

"Having taken power in a nascent democracy six years ago, Putin has been reestablishing authoritarian control. Governors are no longer elected but appointed by the Kremlin. Laws have been changed to make it harder for opposition parties to compete. Independent media outlets and major corporations have been gobbled up by state-controlled companies.

Repression at home has been matched by rogue behavior abroad. Russia has used economic leverage in an attempt to stifle democratic revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, with the goal of keeping those neighboring countries under its thumb. In Chechnya, Moscow has imposed a brutal puppet regime. Russia exports arms to China, Venezuela, Syria and other countries at odds with the U.S. Most alarming have been Russia's sales to Iran of a nuclear reactor and surface-to-air missiles to defend it, even as Moscow blocks serious UN sanctions against Tehran."

In the UK, the Guardian follows a similar line of thought, saying Vladimir Putin is no touchy-feely politician. He has waged wars, destroyed opponents and played global statesman but his KGB training has left him ill-equipped to handle more sensitive political events, such as the alleged poisoning Alexander Litvinenko.

"Like it or not, Mr Putin's harsh style looks unlikely to change in the last two years of his second term. His position at home is unchallenged. And on key international issues such as UN sanctions on Iran, a "strategic partnership" with Europe, Georgia's future as an independent conduit for central Asian oil and gas, and a final settlement in Kosovo and the Balkans, European diplomats say Russia's positive cooperation is essential. All these are reasons, for example, why Mr Chirac and Germany's Angela Merkel spent yesterday trying to persuade Poland to drop its opposition to an EU-Russia pact. The new phenomenon of Putin power also suggests that, wherever the poison trail leads, Britain will do all it can to avoid open confrontation with the Kremlin."

Thai Politics

The International Herald Tribune says that two celebrations this week -- Dec. 5, King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday and Dec. 10, Constitution Day -- underline the uncertain future of Thailand's governmental institutions almost three months since a coup overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra's government. It adds that the metropolitan elite that supported the overthrow of the previous military coup in 1992 and brought about the generally liberal and balanced 1997 constitution may now fear Thaksin-style populist democracy more than they dislike the military's pretensions to being the final political arbiter.

"There is now an increasingly vocal advocacy of the notion that Thailand is somehow not suited to one-man one- vote democracy. This does not just come from the military and the most fervent coup supporters. It is also found in a wider universe of academics, senior bureaucrats and establishment business leaders. The people, it is argued, are too ignorant, too easily bought by populists of Thaksin's ilk. Provincial politicians are, it is said, "godfathers" and local power brokers more interested in business deals than in national policies."

In Thailand, the Bangkok Post says that the selection of writers for the new constitution has proceeded quietly, overshadowed by the renewed violence in the deep South and controversies over policies initiated by the deposed Thaksin government. But the same people that welcomed the coup with roses are now demanding political reform.

"In this respect, the process of selecting the constitution writers must be done with transparency and fairness. They must represent people from all walks of life, and they must understand the problems and weaknesses that led to past political crises. At issue is not only the moral integrity of politicians, but also the elimination of money politics that has bred vote buying and political corruption. Seasoned politicians know vote buying cannot be stopped simply by putting psychological pressure on voters. The only way to change people's voting habits is to change the political and social agenda, and structure, to ensure an equitable distribution of income."


Ali Larijani

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