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Putting Political Change in Iran First

Iran's future is unlikely to be determined on the streets of Tehran this month, the thirty-first anniversary of the revolution that ousted the Shah and brought Islamic rule to Iran. Neither the Revolutionary Guard nor the Green Movement is in a position to deliver a knockout blow to the other.

Still, with the prospects for negotiations and effective sanctions poor, and with the consequences of either an Iranian nuclear weapon or a preventive strike by Israel or the United States so potentially troubling, a decision to reorient U.S. policy toward promoting political change in Tehran is warranted. This argues for assisting the Green Movement so that it can maintain access to the Internet, introducing (if need be without the blessing of the UN Security Council) additional sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard, and aligning U.S. rhetoric with what Iranians themselves are saying in the streets of their country -- that it's time for a reform of political rights and an end to economic mismanagement.

The outside world should not just call for respecting political rights (as the United States and the European Union did on February 8) but also underscore that the Iranian people are paying a huge economic price for the policies of their leaders. The argument must be that Iran's standard of living will improve sharply when the regime stops wasting the country's wealth on supporting terrorists and building nuclear weapons.

One Iranian exile I know described this theme to me as "Iran First." It resonates inside Iran. But it should also resonate inside the United States, albeit in a different sense. This administration has devoted enormous time to crafting U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. Yet what happens in Iran promises to be far more consequential for U.S. national security. It is time to adopt an "Iran First" American foreign policy, one that makes promoting political change in Iran the priority it deserves to be.

This post originally appeared on CFR.org.

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