President Obama stepped to the podium this morning at the United Nations General Assembly and declared, "This year has been a time of transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity." Yet Iran stands out, oppressing its people, defaulting on its international obligations and sending to New York a leader who is weaker than ever before. U.S. leadership, coalition pressure and the prospect of diplomacy have put Iran under unprecedented pressure, even as outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen reminded us yesterday that diplomacy and outreach between our countries was "something we all need to spend a lot of time on."
This week Iran is giving off new signs of both the complexity of its internal affairs and the relative weakness of its international position: an inconclusive meeting with Director General Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); dwindling regional influence; economic woes and an ongoing power struggle between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Diplomacy, coupled with smart punitive measures like sanctions, offers the best way forward. “Sanctions were never supposed to become an end [unto] themselves, but unfortunately they can easily become so, because they are something we know how to do,” said John Limbert, the former top State Department official dealing with Iran, “Changing relations with Iran is much harder [than imposing sanctions]—particularly if the other side is not going to be very cooperative.” But it’s the best approach. Israel’s outgoing intelligence chief has also joined the numerous national security experts in warning that a fourth military campaign in the Middle East would be “stupid,” not to mention “messy and protracted.”
As world leaders gather at the United Nations this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up to his usual tricks. By using demagoguery to inspire fear and controversy, Iran's president is hoping to distract the international community from the internal Iranian political dynamics that are challenging his leadership. The combination of controversies brought on by Ahmadinejad's clumsy power grabs, turmoil in the Iranian economy and a nuclear program beset with technical problems and rising public doubts makes it clear that a large gulf separates the president's rhetoric and reality. These dynamics provide a crucial window of opportunity for the U.S. and its partners to press their advantage and to resume active negotiations with Iran over its nuclear activities. American national security leaders from across the political spectrum agree that the U.S. would "lose nothing" by pressing to restart talks.
Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak to the United Nations General Assembly. He will make predictably odious statements, and they will be seized upon by conservatives in the U.S. as evidence that the U.S. should abandon its policy of engaging the Iranian regime. These critics should be ignored. Conservatives who argue for abandoning engagement are stuck in the failed policies of the past: unilateral and unrealistic sanctions, useless saber-rattling, and wild notions of regime change. This stance defies the opinions of top military leaders and leading Iran experts. While the U.S. must be ready to deploy internationally backed pressure if needed, the best means forward with Iran is to stay committed to the policy of engagement.
The Obama administration set the end of September as a deadline for Iran to accept talks over its nuclear program or face greater sanctions. The lessons of the last eight years make it clear that Iran can withstand unilateral US sanctions and maneuvers --only a unified international community can have an effect. Engagement remains the best way of forcing a decision from the regime – either move in a new direction offered by the Obama administration or face consequences from a united international community.The Obama administration set the end of September as a deadline for Iran to accept talks over its nuclear program or face greater sanctions. The lessons of the last eight years make it clear that Iran can withstand unilateral US sanctions and maneuvers --only a unified international community can have an effect. Engagement remains the best way of forcing a decision from the regime – either move in a new direction offered by the Obama administration or face consequences from a united international community.
The inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second presidential term earlier this monthhas not dissipated discontent with the regime or ended political turmoil. Political and religious leaders have organized behind the scenes and opposition leaders continue to make explosive allegations against the government. This coming month, the fractious regime will be pushed back into the international spotlight. A clogged September calendar will see Iran dominate the agenda of international meetings in Frankfurt, Vienna, Pittsburgh, and New York. Despite Iran’s political uncertainty, engagement remains the best way of forcing a decision from the regime – either move in a new direction offered by the Obama administration or face consequences from a united international community.
Iran erupted this weekend following claims from the regime that President Ahmadinejad had been overwhelming reelected. Supporters of the main opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Moussavi, quickly took to the streets in protest. The regime has cracked down brutally, detained many opposition leaders, placed Moussavi under watch, evicted and detained foreign journalists, and attempted to block protestors ability to communicate and organize by blocking text messaging and internet access.
Iranians have turned out in huge numbers to vote in their presidential election today. The major storyline thus far has been the tremendous outpouring of support for challenger Mir Hussein Moussavi.While emphasizing economic reforms and political and personal freedoms, his supporters have also repudiated the approach of Ahmadinejad and expressed their desire for improved relations with the west – particularly with the United States. President Obama’s election, and his efforts to engage the region and establish a relationship built on mutual respect, have resonated.Yet conservatives who once longingly looked for democracy to emerge in Iran are now changing their tune in an effort to salvage their discredited hard-line approach toward Iran, arguing that the presidency is irrelevant and the outpouring on the streets doesn’t matter because the elections are not entirely free and fair.