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Ali Safavi Headshot

Iran Crisis Needs a Firm Response

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In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler spouted his "love for peace" in a series of speeches as the Nazis masterfully concealed their real ambitions to wage war. In public, Hitler became all but a peace activist, while in private, the German dictator spent more on Germany's rearmament program than unemployment relief. If we were in London or Paris in the 1930s, knowing what forces of evil Hitler would unleash onto the world, what would we have done differently?

Fast forward to almost 80 years later. On May 3, the president of the only government flouting its nuclear obligations addressed an international conference dedicated to strengthening compliance with those obligations.

In his 35-minute speech, the firebrand president of the Iranian regime defied logic and overstepped all bounds of deceit. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on the US to join a "humane movement" to abolish all nuclear weapons, which he called "disgusting and shameful." He also sought to put the world's mind at ease about the nature of his regime's nuclear program by claiming that there was not "a single credible proof" that Tehran had an illicit weapons program.

The five-yearly Nonproliferation Treaty review conference at the UN will discuss ways to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The 189 treaty members discuss new strategies, for example, on how the International Atomic Energy Agency should be strengthened. But the Iranian regime has persistently and blatantly sought to defy and thus weaken the IAEA and undermine the NPT as a whole. So, granting a forum to Ahmadinejad is not only ironic but disastrous for the aims of the conference.

But, the Iranian regime is no stranger to irony. The misogynist theocracy was just accepted as a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. It is baffling how the UN body, which is dedicated to "gender equality and the advancement of women" in the world, could benefit from a regime that, among other things, stones women to death and systematically rapes female political activists in prisons.

These paradoxical developments, however, do not result from the regime's cunning or mastery at diplomatic manipulation. They are rather the undisputed byproduct of the West's ineffective policy towards a malevolent theocracy, where instead of firmly punishing the regime for its flagrant violations of international laws and treaties, the regime is given further concessions and rewards in a foolhardy attempt to convince it to change its behavior.

Prior to Ahmadinejad's visit to New York, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed hope that new sanctions would be aimed at "changing the calculus" of the regime on the wisdom of its current course of action. The problem, however, is that the regime perceives a nuclear weapon as the only guarantee for its survival in the face of domestic upheavals.

Later at the UN, Ms. Clinton explained, "Time and time again, I think we have demonstrated our commitment to the two-track process, the track of engagement and of moving forward together, and then the track of pressure."

The challenge is that the track of pressure is insufficient and engagement is problematic. The track of engagement has left just enough room for the regime to maneuver and to buy time for its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The only way to confront Tehran's threats is to stand firm against it.

Both the UN Secretary-General and IAEA chief have highlighted Iranian non-compliance with NPT obligations. International consensus and growing impatience on the issue has even pushed China and Russia to warm up to a new round of sanctions.

In this context, time is of the essence. Although Tehran can block consensus at the conference for an official declaration, the US should lead attempts to adopt an unofficial majority declaration that isolates Tehran, paving the way for tough sanctions at the Security Council next month.

Furthermore, by virtue of a growing international chorus against Tehran's nuclear program, efforts to water down the new round of sanctions should be genuinely pushed back. Comprehensive sanctions against the regime should include measures against its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (domestic suppressive organ and exporter of terrorism), and an oil and gas embargo. As one House Representative recently noted, "There is no excuse for doing business with a tyrannical regime."

But, ultimately, sanctions should not be an end in themselves. Unless Washington pursues options to strengthen Iran's democratic opposition, the regime will only be emboldened. President Obama should set his sights on a strategic Iran policy by removing obstacles on the path of democratic Iranian opposition groups.

This is especially urgent as Iran is facing its most serious social uprising in three decades while economic woes of large segments of the population are intensifying. So, domestic, not international, factors can ultimately force change into the regime's calculus.

The most prominent Iranian opposition leader, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, has called on the West to support democratic change in Iran by the Iranian people and their organized resistance movement. That is the only strategic guarantee to safeguard the world from the unleashing of more warmongering and terrorism by the Iranian regime. After a nuclear arms race, future generations do not deserve to ask themselves, "If we were in Washington in 2010, what would we have done differently vis-à-vis the Iranian regime?"