Ever since the 2002 revelations by an Iranian opposition group detailing Tehran's clandestine nuclear program, Iran has been the foreign policy nightmare which has baffled United States Presidents and Secretaries of State. Sidelined by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran's nuclear defiance was ignored at times as other crises in the region took precedence. Now, as Tehran forges ahead with its nuclear program, there can be little doubt that the single largest policy decision the current President must take is how to deal with the threat posed by the Iranian regime.
In the lead up to his election, President Obama long advocated a policy of engagement with rogue states, and his strategy in dealing with the Iranian threat has centered on dialogue and diplomacy. Many believe that the President had pinned his hopes on a conviction that in the June 2009 Iranian Presidential elections Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be replaced by elements within the regime that had a greater interest in listening to proposals put forward by the US.
The President's belief may well have been based on sound foreign policy. However, the election of less radical elements within the regime never materialized in an election overshadowed by allegations of widespread fraud, and the President has found himself face to face with a man who has conclusively stated that Iran's nuclear program is not up for negotiation.
The days, weeks and months that have passed since that hotly contested presidential election have meant that Obama is faced with an Iranian regime whose hardcore element has rallied around its own President as widespread protests amongst the Iranian population call for an end to the rule of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Whether negotiations, diplomacy and engagement were ever tools which could have convinced Tehran's leaders to step back from their nuclear ambitions is questionable, but internal developments in Iran have meant that this regime will not and simply cannot negotiate if it wants to survive in its current form.
The Iranian people's widespread protests calling for an end to the rule of the Iranian leadership has in a strange twist of fate forced Tehran's leadership to show their cards on the nuclear front, cards which have indicated to the international community that engagement and incentives will have no impact on their nuclear ambitions and continued nuclear defiance.
The question now raised is whether the international community is willing to impose the further financial sanctions that may bring the present Iranian regime to its knees in the coming months.
Such sanctions must clearly play a role in any policy developed towards Iran, but we must couple this with the one thing that the Iranian regime fears most, the democratic desires of the Iranian people and the Iranian opposition movement.
The Mujahedeen e Khalq (MEK) has been at the heart of Iran's opposition movement for years. Blacklisted in the US, the group has faced pressure from authorities intent on not allowing anything to hinder their ambitions to engage Tehran. As the Iranian people gear up for further widespread protests on the 31st anniversary of the overthrow of the Shah, they will be looking to the world for support.
Sanctions are measures that will play their course in the coming months, but today and now the President should unfetter the Iranian opposition by removing the ban on the MeK and allowing the Iranian opposition movement to forge ahead towards democratic change.
Roger Gale is a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom and a former Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party.