Some room for surprises still remains, but as things stand it is hard to see how the system will not win in Iran’s presidential election, writes Michael Axworthy in The Guardian.“There is an impression, reinforced by the attacks on his handling of negotiations with the west in the televised debate, that Jalili has not run a good campaign. Velayati has appeared statesmanlike and would have Khamenei’s full confidence in future nuclear negotiations, but may struggle to get the popular vote. Rouhani may do better in the election, but can Khamenei trust a Rafsanjani protege? The ruling group may get away with it this time, but they cannot assume they will be able to sustain power in conditions of continued sanctions-induced economic meltdown.”

“In the past decade or so, some of the best legal minds in the country, working for the Bush and Obama administrations, have reshaped a shadow system of court hearings and court orders that was originally created to serve as a check on the executive branch, but which, in practice, serves to justify its ever-expanding reach,” writes John Cassidy in the New Yorker.“Built upon repeated amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, the system is so secretive it is virtually impossible for the American public, journalists included, to know how it operates. About all we can say is that it rubber-stamps a large number of requests from the intelligence agencies, including one, revealed to us by Snowden, that enables them to sweep up the telephone records of anybody who has service provided by a Verizon subsidiary.”

“A group of Chinese scholars, analysts and military officials convened on a recent morning in a spartan schoolroom to draw attention to China’s simmering territorial dispute with Japan. Participants spoke in urgent tones. Reporters took notes. A spirit of solidarity reigned,” reports Jane Perlez in the New York Times.“But the deliberations were not about the barren rocks in the East China Sea that are known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan and that the two nations have been sparring over with competing naval patrols. Instead, the group that gathered at Renmin University was focused on a more enticing prize — Japan’s southernmost island chain, which includes the strategic linchpin of Okinawa, home to 1.3 million Japanese citizens, not to mention 27,000 American troops.”