We are approaching the end of a long process of UN Security Council’s attempts to force Iran into abandoning its uranium enrichment program by imposing largely symbolic and naturally ineffective economic sanctions on the country. The Islamic Republic has ignored three UNSC resolutions. Today, IAEA reported that Iran has actually admitted to building a second enrichment facility [AFP, 25 September].
We are now approaching a new phase in international community’s attempt to stop Iranian enrichment program. For the first time, Russia seems to be on board for imposing severe economic sanctions against Iran, including an embargo on the sale of gasoline to the country. The US has apparently paid a price to bring Russia on board, scrapping its planned missile defense program in Eastern Europe.
The Islamic Republic can ill afford to ignore the new international push against it enrichment activities. Internally, the current government in Tehran is in its weakest position in the thirty-year history of the Islamic Republic. Large segments of the population are supporting the opposition. The Green movement has rubbed the Islamic Republic of its legitimacy. The government cannot even hold any public gatherings in Tehran without fearing that it would turn into a massive anti-government protest. A severe economic sanction, such as a ban on sale of gasoline to Iran, might further inflame the public sentiment against the government, holding it responsible for bringing in further miseries to the country as a result of a foreign policy that has so isolated the country. Even Russia might have joined the others.
The unfortunate fact about a disabling sanction is that the population will suffer the most. But the opposition can turn around such hardship into a major political gain against the government if it can effectively argue that it is the government’s misguided foreign policy that has created such condition. We have already heard opposition leaders starting to talk in those terms. The government, aware of such danger to its existence, might (just might) back down this time in the face of an expanding international alliance against its nuclear policies.
Because of the strength of the Green movement, the diplomacy might work this time. The threat of severe sanctions should be coupled with a serious push to bring the Islamic Republic into serious negotiations with the international community. A solution to guarantee Iran’s rights to have access to enriched uranium for its nuclear power plants might now be acceptable for the government to give up its own enrichment program.