A number of recent reports about Iran - including the replacement of Ali Larijani as its chief nuclear negotiator and that Gordon Brown had promised George Bush support for future air strikes - are being interpreted as signs that the march to military action is well underway.
The western media frequently points out how hard it is to decipher the Byzantine power struggles of Iranian politics. This is because the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has the real final say over Iranian policy, and he's not nearly as disposed to making public pronouncements as the likes of the less powerful president Ahmedinejad.
Larijani, although inevitably in possession of some deeply reactionary, nationalistic views, was at least seen by western diplomats as someone they could do business with, much more so than the clowns that are his successor, Saeed Jalili, and his president.
The Economist sounded an optimistic note last week:
The big question is the state of relations between the president and the Supreme Leader. Does their apparent disagreement, at least over the style of nuclear diplomacy, mean that Mr Khamenei is moving towards a more flexible negotiating position—and may perhaps be more amenable to reform in other spheres too?
This may be too optimistic, as is the idea that more pragmatic conservatives like former president Rafsanjani and reformers like the former president Khatami might form a successful front against hardliners like the current president in next March's parliamentary elections.
As Alex Bigham pointed out recently on Progress Online, reformists lack a clear leadership figure and are prone to being disqualified from standing in elections by hardline administrators. Although conservatives currently appear divided, the prospect of an imminent election often causes them to pull the likes of Larijani and Ahmedinejad to pull together.
Internationally, perhaps none of this matters much anyway. Speaking of clowns, there remain a large number in Washington who simply don't have the political will to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. In this week's Guardian, Max Hastings refers to a revelation by Barbara Slavin that the Khatami government was rebuffed in offering a 'grand bargain' to the US in 2003.
Would that there were such propitious political circumstances in Tehran today - not that the Bush administration would take any notice.