Now is the Time for a Determined Course of Action on Iran
We should not be too surprised that Iran continues to defy international calls to open its nuclear program to greater scrutiny and transparency. Even as the toughest U.S. sanctions yet were enacted, and Europe was considering a ban on Iranian oil imports, the militant theocracy threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly 40 percent of the world’s seaborne supply of crude oil flows.
We should not be too surprised that Iran continues to defy international calls to open its nuclear program to greater scrutiny and transparency. Even as the toughest U.S. sanctions yet were enacted, and Europe was considering a ban on Iranian oil imports, the militant theocracy threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly 40 percent of the world’s seaborne supply of crude oil flows. But such bluster, typical of the Tehran regime, was also accompanied by the usual call for new negotiations, this time with both the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany), and also with the EU. Such talks have been going on for years with little to show for the effort.
While the various sanctions imposed by our country on Iran since 1996 have certainly made life increasingly difficult for the Islamic Republic, these restrictions have not been adequately implemented by any U.S. administration to date. The result has been all too predictable – continued Iranian defiance and support of worldwide terrorism, accompanied by increased efforts to accelerate nuclear programs leading to weaponization capability.
U.S. policy must be to use all means to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran with its potential for a disastrous impact on the region. What is needed is the strictest application of the latest sanctions aimed at Iran’s Central Bank, with the administration’s strong encouragement for Europe to follow suit. Both France and the UK are actually ahead of our own country in this regard, and are making real attempts to get a number of European countries that rely on Iranian oil, such as Spain, Greece, and Italy, to join in banning these imports. A unified EU position is expected to be announced on January 23. Meanwhile, a full spectrum of covert actions should be intensified, along with “soft power” efforts to encourage Iran’s oppressed opposition to push for change. Such efforts should include more focused broadcasting by Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. We must pursue opportunities to achieve real change in Iran, having squandered the potential for transformation in the aftermath of the 2009 sham elections there.
There is growing evidence that sanctions are beginning to bite deeply into the Islamic Republic’s economy. The Iranian currency, the rial, is trading at its lowest rate ever, while inflation and unemployment are rapidly increasing. Iran’s continued support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody attempts to cling to power has severely hurt its standing among many Arab states, as well as with Turkey, which until now had been a particularly close ally.
It is likely that a number of countries, including Japan and South Korea, will seek the waivers that the Administration insisted be added to the most recently enacted sanctions bill, in order to continue their energy trade with Iran. Only under the most serious circumstances should these waivers be granted and the timetable for action on oil imports be extended. Sanctions will work only if the United States succeeds in getting friendly and not-as-friendly countries alike to change their trade patterns with Iran, which is so dependent on its oil revenues.
We should not expect Iranian goals and behavior to change unless the White House demonstrates a more consistent and forceful approach. With the newest sanctions offering the possibility of greater success, it is a propitious time for the United States to chart a determined course of action leading to the prevention of a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as regime change. With these goals in mind, the United States must remain committed to a policy of sanctions and other punitive measures until the menace of Iran as a nuclear power is overcome.