In the Arena

A Smart Iran Policy

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David Sanger and William Broad lay out the next stage of the Obama Administration’s Iran policy in the NY Times today and it seems pretty solid to me. The President gave Iran a year to comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory; and four months to formally agree to the nuclear fuel transfer program, which it negotiated in Geneva. Iran hasn’t complied, so it’s time for sanctions–and also, one hopes for more of this:

In addition, international nuclear inspectors report that at Iran’s plant in Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges spin to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel, the number of the machines that are currently operating has dropped by 20 percent since the summer, a decline nuclear experts attribute to technical problems. Others, including some European officials, believe the problems may have been accentuated by a series of covert efforts by the West to undermine Iran’s program, including sabotage on its imported equipment and infrastructure.

The sanctions will be targeted, with the intention of not harming the Iranian middle class:

Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.

The administration aims to get Arab and Asian nations to join Europe in cutting off financial transactions with front companies for the Revolutionary Guards.

The crucial question here is whether the Russians and Chinese will join in. This is an important moment in our relations with both countries. The Obama Administration worked hard to build a strong working relationship with each. It has removed the European-based anti-missile system, which threatened Russia, and has joined in good-faith nuclear weapon reduction talks. It has not pressed China on human rights and it provides security for Chinese economic development programs, like the massive new copper mine in Afghanistan. That’s no guarantee that either country will join in–although I do have some hope that the Russians will, and that our European and Sunni allies will help apply the pressure.

In any case, this seems to me a far more plausible strategy than the bomb-bomb-Iran brigade has posited. It is strong, it is subtle, it doesn’t alienate the Iranian people and it doesn’t make bullying kinetic threats that might weaken the international coalition that is building against Iran. Let’s hope it works.