Iran also has deeper problems at home.
Western sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program are cutting deeper into critical oil exports, with the U.S. applying greater pressure on Iran’s major Asian customers to further trim purchases. Iran’s finance minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, was quoted Sunday by the economic daily Donya-e-Eqtesad as saying oil revenue had dropped 50 percent because of sanctions, but said that shifts to non-oil exports and more aggressive tax policies have helped ease the shortfall.
In October — as the value of Iran’s currency plunged by more than 40 percent in a week — some merchants in Tehran’s main bazaar chanted against the government’s financial aid to Assad’s regime.
It’s possible that Iran could even boost its money flow to Assad if Russia’s support weakens, said Torbjorn Soltvedt, a senior regional analyst at Maplecroft, a Britain-based risk analysis group.
‘‘However, given the extent of Iran’s own economic problems as a result of sanctions, its ability to prop up Assad is likely to be limited,’’ he added.
Cautiously, over the months, such reality checks have emerged from Iran as rebel strength and support has grown.
During the summer, several current and former Iranian diplomats published opinion articles questioning whether Tehran should stick by Assad’s regime or begin to weigh alternatives. But Iran’s top envoy, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, appears to reflect the seesaw views from the country’s leadership.
Salehi has urged a negotiated resolution in Syria, possibly with a deal for Assad to bow out with elections in 2014. On Saturday, however, he struck a hardline tone by saying Tehran ‘‘won’t allow’’ Assad to fall — without saying what measures Iran was prepared to take.
A similar two-sided declaration was echoed by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. On Sunday, he urged the Syrian opposition to hold talks rather than fight, but said that predictions of Assad’s imminent ouster were mere ‘‘wishful thinking’’ by his opponents in the West, Turkey and Arab world.
‘‘Iran is caught between two political paths,’’ said Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. ‘‘It can’t simply cut Assad loose, but it can’t hang onto him at all costs. It would be foolish to think that Iran is not actively drawing up its post-Assad strategies.’’
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.