The revelation that Iran was planning to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States by blowing up a restaurant he frequented in Washington, D.C. should finally put to rest any hopes that the regime in Tehran is a credible partner for peace. This brazen attempt to carry out a terrorist act on American soil, potentially killing Americans in the process, represents a significant and dangerous escalation that demands a firm and determined response from the U.S. and its allies.
The plot fits squarely into an overall pattern of warlike escalation on the part of Tehran: for some time now, the regime has been increasing its direct assistance and material support to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Shia extremists in Iraq -- two groups directly responsible for killing U.S. and NATO forces. Even worse, this past summer the U.S. unveiled evidence that Iran is directly aiding al-Qaeda, an alliance once thought unlikely. That Shia-controlled Iran is now aiding the Sunni perpetrators of 9/11 signals just how radical and intransigent the current leadership in Tehran has become.
How should the U.S. respond? First and foremost, we must reject the outdated notion that we are in a 'cold' or proxy war with Iran that should be dealt with in a diplomatic vacuum. Iran is directly responsible for killing U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now plotting to kill Americans and foreign diplomats inside U.S. borders. That is the definition of a 'hot' war, and U.S. policymakers must accept that, particularly since Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. If Iran is a threat now, imagine it with the capability to launch a nuclear terror attack against the U.S. or its allies.
Second, the U.S. must aggressively pursue a strategy to isolate Iran further -- much further. Outrageously, a number of international companies like Nokia-Siemens, Fiat, Honeywell, and Daelim still do business in Iran, many of them in Iran's energy sector, which is dominated by known terrorist entities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The hard currency these business activities provide Iran directly funds its ability to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction, and pursue terrorist activities around the globe.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) has worked hard at the grassroots level to pressure companies into ending their irresponsible business activities in Iran. Yet in the case of the many international companies that continue to do business there, it is necessary for governments to act. The U.S. and international community must make clear, through the imposition of much tougher sanctions, that doing business in Iran will no longer be tolerated. This requires serious action, including sanctioning Iran's Central Bank to sever the regime from the international financial system, imposing an asset freeze and travel ban on top Iranian officials, banning imports of Iranian oil, and passing legislation such as the Iran Transparency and Accountability Act, which would require companies that avail themselves of U.S. capital markets to publicly disclose their Iran business.
In the event the UN Security Council will be unwilling to adopt these sanctions given likely Chinese and Russian vetoes, the U.S., EU, Asian allies, and other like-minded nations should harmonize efforts and adopt coordinated multilateral sanctions that will give Iran no choice but to change course.
Third, the U.S. and other countries must work to actively support pro-democratic elements in Iran. It is no coincidence that Iran ramped up its efforts to aggressively crack down on internal protests earlier this year, as its neighbors were dealing with uprisings like those the regime faced in 2009 and 2010. Back then, the U.S. was reluctant to support the protestors due to the mistaken assumption that the current leadership in Tehran could be persuaded into peace. Now, it's time to get serious. As part of a strategy to support opposition groups in Iran, America should state clearly and unequivocally that it no longer bestows any legitimacy on the current regime in Iran, and U.S. policy should affirm that.
President Obama extended an olive branch to Iran within the first two months of his taking office in 2009. Yet since then, Iran has responded by killing U.S. forces, aiding al-Qaeda, and plotting to detonate an explosive device at an American restaurant. The Iranian regime has been emboldened by American inaction and reliance on diplomatic overtures, and the U.S. should now make clear that it is willing to respond to acts of war by Iran with swift and effective financial and military action.
Iran clearly sees itself as a nation at war with the U.S. It is time for America to recognize that grim reality, and act accordingly.
Ambassador Mark D. Wallace is President of United Against Nuclear Iran. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Representative for U.N. Management and Reform. Frances Townsend is a member of the United Against Nuclear Iran Advisory Board. She served as Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and chaired the Homeland Security Council.