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In many ways, it’s a shame because the sanctions that are already in place are beginning to affect the politics in Iran and are putting pressure on the leadership to deal with the rising desperation of ordinary people. Prices for some staples in Iran have tripled and severe restrictions have been placed on imported goods. The Iranian rial has lost half its value against the dollar. The official inflation rate is 21% but outside experts believe it to be much higher. Some of President Ahmadinejad’s political opponents are seeking to blame him for the economic troubles besetting the country. Speaker of the Majlis, Ali Larijani, said, “The country’s economic problems are only 20 percent due to the sanctions,” adding, “Unfortunately, the main origin of the inflation comes from the maladroit application of the plan to suppress subsidies.” Ahmadinejad has been phasing out subsidies for basics like meat, cooking oil, and medicine since 2010 but recently suspended the phase out.
Khamenei has even gone as far as pleading with the government to refrain from criticizing one another, while trying to gag the media and prevent them from showing the pain being experienced by ordinary citizens. In a sign of how bad things have become, much of the media is ignoring the government and running stories on how the sanctions are making life very difficult for the ordinary citizen.
In this sense only, the sanctions are “working.” But in the far more important area of forcing the Iranian government to deal with the world on its uranium enrichment program, it appears to have had the opposite effect. The official Fars News Agency reports that Supreme Leader Khamenei told the Iranian people, “The enemies explicitly say that by intensifying the pressure and the sanctions, they are seeking to force Iranian officials to reconsider their calculations.” He added, “In reality, we will not rethink our calculations, and we will continue to trod the path of the Iranian nation more resolutely.”
And President Ahmadinejad boasted that there are now 11,000 centrifuges working at their two known enrichment facilities in Nantanz and the Fordo, the underground fortified bunker outside of Qom. This represents a significant increase in the number of working centrifuges since the International Atomic Energy Agency checked last May. And Iran is still refusing permission for the IAEA to inspect the huge military installation in Parchin, outside Tehran. Western experts believe that activity at the base reflects the possibility that nuclear research — unmonitored and secret — is being conducted there.
Clearly, regardless of how tough sanctions are designed to be, it matters little where it counts: convincing the Iranians to seriously negotiate an end to their uranium enrichment activities.
To that end, the West is still giving it the old college try. Despite zero progress made in previous negotiating sessions, the P5 + 1 group of nations — United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany — are once again seeking a substantive meeting with Iran’s nuclear negotiators. Recent mid-level talks in Istanbul have resulted in an agreement for the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to sit down with chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. No date has been set, nor has an agenda been agreed upon. The phrase “As long as they’re talking, they’re not shooting at each other” is about the best one can say about the status of negotiations with Iran.
Israel has its own timetable and is obviously losing patience with the on-again-off-again negotiations. Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently said that a nuclear armed Iran would be more dangerous than efforts to prevent them from acquiring those arms:
I am well aware and have in-depth knowledge of the difficulties and the complexities involved in thwarting Iran’s reaching nuclear arms. But I have no doubt that dealing with that same threat once it ripens, if it ripens, will be vastly more complicated, dangerous and exacting in human lives and resources.
The political pressure placed on the regime by sanctions is still manageable. It would seem logical that increasing that pressure as much as possible in order to generate political unrest and put fear in the hearts of Iranian leaders would be a course of action short of war — something the president is constantly carping on.
But when the administration and the Democrats in the Senate undercut that strategy by weakening the very sanctions that might be a tipping point in Iran’s domestic politics, one can legitimately question the president’s commitment to preventing the Iranians from building a nuclear weapon. This is no time to play politics when the clock is ticking both on Iran’s ability to construct a weapon of mass destruction, and Israel’s probable response.
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