Critical shift

U.S. policy must factor in changed landscape in Iran


Critical shift
by Trita Parsi & Muhammad Sahimi

The protests in Iran over the past few weeks have shown that the opposition in Iran is not going away. In fact, while the regime is shrinking, the opposition is growing and gaining momentum. For the West, this has significant implications. With nuclear diplomacy at a deadlock following internal Iranian divisions, the mass demonstrations underline the folly of a singular focus on nuclear matters in the midst of Iran’s historic upheavals.

Almost seven months after the elections, the Green Movement continues to deprive Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of any sense of normalcy. It is not surprising that the two are finding themselves playing defense. They increasingly focused on retaining their shrinking base, rather than creating divisions within the Greens.

But even here, they are failing. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral and the subsequent demonstrations last month showed once again the deep fissures within the conservative camp. These divisions grew even greater following Mir Hossin Mousavi’s statement on Jan. 1, in which he proposed a way out of the present crisis.

Furthermore, the internal strife has distracted the hardliners and slowed down Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Fewer centrifuges are spinning at Natanz, and smaller amounts of low-enriched uranium are being produced. The Obama administration itself has indicated through leaks that Iran doesn’t have a credible breakout capability in the short run. That means that the urgency of the nuclear clock isn’t as great as was assumed a few months ago.

Europe and the U.S.’s policies toward Iran must factor in this new political landscape. We must also recognize the Green movement’s ability to alter the course of Iran’s internal and external dynamics and behavior, and cease to craft its policies in defiance of that reality.

The internal Iranian clock may not be ticking as fast as the West would like, but we would ignore it at our own peril. The Green Movement plans to flex its muscles again in the coming weeks on the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution and the traditional mourning on the 40th day after Montazeri’s death.

This will coincide with renewed efforts at the UN Security Council to impose new sanctions on Iran due to the ongoing nuclear dispute. To pursue this path without factoring in the momentous developments inside Iran — and how it can affect them — would be a grave mistake.

The West should not do anything that would harm the Green Movement, including imposing broad economic sanctions on Iran that would hurt ordinary Iranians and provide a pretext for the hardliners to intensify their repression of the movement.

The Obama administration has recognized the importance of not alienating the Iranian people under these circumstances. “Our goal is to pressure the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week, “without contributing to the suffering of ordinary [Iranians].”

This is critical and a paradigm shift in Washington’s approach to Iran sanctions. But the policy must match the rhetoric.

Given that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) controls a very significant fraction of Iran’s official and underground economy, it would be difficult to identify effective sanctions that can hurt only the IRGC, while sparing the regular population. Thus, the prudent policy would be to try to target the main figures of the regime individually.

At the same time, even if some sanctions can be identified that hurt IRGC companies, with minimal damage to the ordinary Iranians, their imposition should be accompanied by lifting existing sanctions that have contributed to the suffering of ordinary Iranians. These would include sanctions on medicines, on spare parts for Iran’s aging civilian aircrafts, on information technology and IT services, as well as on charitable donations to Iranian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). That would reassure the Iranian people that the targets are the hardliners, not them.

The bottom line is that the West has tried — unsuccessfully — to synchronize the internal Iranian clock with the nuclear clock. It wants the Green movement to run a 100-meter sprint, whereas in reality they are running a marathon. It’s time to try a different approach, one in which the Iranian democracy clock is given priority, and the strategy on nuclear and security matters are adjusted accordingly.

This would mean an engagement policy that focuses on human rights and not just the nuclear issue; a time-frame for diplomacy that factors in Iran’s domestic developments; sanctions that target responsible actors in the government and not ordinary people; and a recognition that no security deal is sustainable if it comes at the expense of the pro-democracy aspirations of the Iranian people.

First published in The Hill.

Parsi is the president of the National Iranian American Council and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. An Iran analyst, Sahimi is a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California.


Louie Louie too

by Louie Louie on

While has been blocked for few years now, Payvand's website is easily accessible.

Yes sir, Ashura sineh zani in London is something we all want to see!



by DariusMazdak on

<wonders why the NIAC website is not being blocked in the Islamic Republic> 


Loosen the Noose on IRI

by Ahura on

Now that the nuclear issue impasse requires US and its allies to tighten the noose around the neck of IRI and its IRGC terrorist agents Dr. Trita Parsi has come to help again. The logic that targeted sanctions on IRGC affects the general public in Iran, and “provides a pretext for the hardliners to intensify their repression of the movement” is false. The IRI ruling mullahs do not need any pretext to imprison, torture, and execute their political dissenters. They have been doing that for years. They, also, have blamed USA and UK for all their poor economic, domestic, and international policies and ailments.

The IRI regime cannot be trusted with any good faith agreement, and must be eliminated as soon as possible. Time is of essence and targeted sanctions against IRGC and IRI leaders will help the opposition movement for the simple reason that it hurts the regime.


Parsi and Sahimi?

by jamshid on

The authors of this article have vigourously defended the interests of the IRI regime in the past. This sums up what it is worth.

We've been crying "human rights" for decades, and these two gentlemen are just beginning to take notice of the human right violations in Iran?

Some people's shame and hypocrisy has no limits.


My take on the order of priorities to sanction IRI

by MM on

Based on this article and my views, here is my take on the order of priorities when it comes to sanctions:

1. I agree that certain sanctions should be lifted immediately such as those discussed in the article, such as software, medicines & civilian airplane parts.

2. Identify and ban the sale of software / equipment that can be used to block communication and/or monitor the activities of Iranian citizens.

3. Freeze the foreign accounts of the top leaders in Iran.  Here is a list of the top 100, but there is certainly more to add:

See, e.g., reports in Iran Proud
and also
ireport in CNN.

4. Identify the leaders and the assets of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), including their foreign outreach program (Ghods), and propose ways of blocking / freezing assets.

5. Identify charities that funnel money to IRI leaders and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and freeze assets.  

6. And, for heaven’s sake, cry out when see other governments not only sell, but expedite delivery of things like anti-riot trucks to IRI.

7. others? we can discuss.

hamsade ghadimi

iran, protesters, regime, human rights, nuclear issues, and …

by hamsade ghadimi on

some of the premises that the authors use to draw their conclusions/prescriptions are dubious.  the premise of “while the regime is shrinking” is simplistic and vague.  perhaps the regime is going through a transformation from being clergy-based to military-based as many iranian analysts suggest. how is it shrinking?  are the supporters of the regime shrinking? the authors also claim that the “the internal strife has distracted the hardliners and slowed down iran’s uranium enrichment program” as if these hardliners are directly responsible for acquisition of resources and materials to advance iri's nuclear program or it has become a budgetary issue.  are the basijees being diverted from the natanz construction project to the streets of tehran?  where do they get the information that “fewer centrifuges are spinning at natanz, and smaller amounts of low-enriched uranium are being produced.”  not that i don’t believe the authors but they don’t bother substantiating their claim.

i do agree that it's always good to target individuals known to advance or profit from the advancement of the iri regime's apparatus just on the human rights ground.  but it's reasonable to think that the irgc dominates the most profitable parts of iranian industries.  if there are any sanctions to their businesses, they just move on to the next most profitalbe business.  i don't think that targeted boycotts to industries necessarily bankrupts the iranian military leaders and ex-leaders.

and the overall message from the article is that the administration should prioritize its policies and engage iran more on the front of human rights, rather than the advancement of iri’s nuclear capability.  the problem i find with that is that u.s. does not have the best record in the world when it comes to human rights, and to lessen their effort to negotiate on nuclear issues would seem as a sign of weakness.


NIAC good. Soraya Sepahbod-Ulrich crap! Green good.

by Anonymouse on

This is a good article.  It's hard to formulate all the thoughts but we can argue for what can be done. 

Targeting individual leaders of the regime is a very good idea.  If for nothing else but to give people the news that these individuals are targeted as wanted criminals.  Now who can argue with that? Certainly not ordinary Iranians.  Let's make these individuals the publicity they so desparately desire

Everything is sacred.


Khamenei's checking account

by Fred on

Just when you think you have seen all something comes along to prove you wrong. Long time advocacy of Islamist nuke and share the Middle East with the Islamist Rapists for they are not going anywhere meet up in this piece.

BTW are the  duo  saying leave the Islamist nuke on the back burner, sort of kind of forget the sanctions, lift the ones in place, and talk human rights till you drop?

Aside lifting the weak sanctions in place of which the duo have included one on medicine, what is new in their brilliant brain storming?

What is being proposed here boils down to freezing Head Rapist Kahmeniei’s personal checking account at Bank of America.