Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday that "Iran's nuclear train has no brakes or reverse gear, because in the past year we have discarded them."
The speech was meant to test the will of the international community only days after his regime defied the U.N. Security Council’s resolution calling for the suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.
Western powers are now meeting to discuss tightening U.N. sanctions on Iran amid a flurry of rhetoric between Tehran and the West. Vice President Dick Cheney renewed Washington’s warning to the Iranian regime that “all options” are on the table if Tehran continues to defy U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment.
Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, in a clear response to Cheney, said, “We do not see America in a position to impose another crisis on its taxpayers inside America by starting another war in the region.” Mottaki added: “The only way to reach a solution for disputes is negotiations and talks.”
For weeks, some American and European officials had hoped that the Iranian regime might back down in light of Western pressure on Iran and enter negotiations that would lead to the freeze of Iran's enrichment program. However, only days before the Feb. 21 Security Council deadline to suspend Iran's enrichment program, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave his unequivocal backing to the country’s nuclear program, saying it was the "future and destiny" of his regime to continue with the program.
Khamenei also lashed out at "superficial and narrow-minded" critics, including some Iranian parliamentarians, who had warned the drive could come at too great a cost for Iran, saying such comments only served to encourage the enemy.
So what are the options available to the international community in dealing with a regime that is intent on obtaining a nuclear bomb by defying the international community? What would make Tehran’s nuclear train crash, or at least stop? Is the Security Council the only option for dealing with the Iranian threat? Are there any other options available to the international community?
A few members of Congress, in an apparent reaction to the intelligence failures that led to the war on Iraq, are inadvertently giving the ruthless ayatollahs ruling Iran the benefit of the doubt — a benefit the ayatollahs don't deserve. In the present situation, partisan politics can easily end up benefiting Tehran. Congressional reluctance has already emboldened Iranian officials to proceed with their nuclear bomb-making and intervention in Iraq, cashing in on the mistakes surrounding the war on Iraq.
According to the Financial Times, an internal European Union document dated Feb. 7, 2007 – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief – has admitted the international community’s failure to hold back Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The document says the atomic program has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic negotiations.
“Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded,” it states. The Iranian regime is not at all impressed by heightened economic incentives from the United States. “They think they are facing a 4-year old child and that they can take away our gold and give us some nuts and chocolate in exchange,” Ahmadinejad said in May 2006 as he ridiculed the Western powers’ package of incentives in exchange for stopping its enrichment program.
However, reports from my sources inside the country confirm that the Iranian regime is vulnerable to U.N. sanctions, as the limited sanctions imposed by Security Council Resolution 1737 are already taking their toll.
Iran's economy is in shambles, and the inflation rate, officially in the double digits, has skyrocketed in recent months. By various accounts, the majority of the population in the oil-rich country lives below the poverty line. Iran’s oil exports, which constitute 85 percent of its export revenue, are second in quantity only to Saudi Arabia, and yet poor policies mean Iran imports more gasoline than any country except the United States.
To be truly effective, the international community needs to expand the current measures to include arms, technological, oil and diplomatic sanctions. In addition to making life difficult for Tehran’s rulers, such sanctions would send a strong signal to the Iranian people that the international community is ready to support their efforts in opposing the clerical regime and establishing democracy in the country.
Indeed, the regime’s Achilles' heel is Iran's internal situation. Iran's younger generation, constituting nearly 70 percent of the population of 70 million, is vehemently opposed to the ruling clerics, and will settle for nothing less than a change in the regime in Tehran. When Ahmadinejad spoke at a university in Tehran last December, the students called him a dictator, burned his pictures, and shouted him out of the auditorium.
Major anti-government demonstrations have taken place all over the country. From the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, to the Iranian Kurdish region; from the Azerbaijan province, to the capital, Tehran, the people of Iran are calling for democracy and a separation of mosque and state.
Despite the Iranian regime's furious scramble to get the nuclear bomb, and its full-fledged efforts to destabilize Iraq irreversibly and install a sister Islamic republic, there is still a chance to halt the Iranian threat in the region. The key to accomplishing this is a tall task, but a vital one: the establishment of democracy in Iran. Though this option may seem fanciful at first, it is the most realistic scenario for taking Iran out of Iraq and halting a nuclear threat.
With the historic failure of all appeasement toward Iran and the infeasibility of the military option, a large bi-partisan group in the U.S. Congress believes the most practical solution is the “third way,” supporting the Iranian resistance and the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is already engaged in establishing democracy in Tehran. These members of Congress say that this group — designated in 1999 as terrorist by the State Department as a goodwill gesture to the Iranian clerics — should be delisted and recognized as a viable force for change in Iran.
Serious consideration of the third option holds enormous potential for a new Iran. The implications are grand, but this does not make them any less realistic. Many considered the Shah's Iran "an island of stability" a year before his overthrow in February 1979 and were jolted when the revolution occurred.
No one should be blind to the facts on the ground this time. Last year alone, some 4,000 anti-government demonstrations took place in Iran, despite every demonstrator knowing that he or she can face jail, torture, or execution.
The opposition in Iran is real, and it is this fast train that Ahmadinejad fears will hit him. As one member of Congress told me, once the State Department removes the main opposition groups from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, the Iranian people's train will have no brakes as it heads for Ahmadinejad and his regime.
Instead of remaining the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, with an ambitious nuclear weapons program and intervention in Iraq to boot, Iran could become the cornerstone of peace in the Middle East.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh revealed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002. He first disclosed the details of Iran's involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, in 1997, and the Jewish Community Center bombing in Argentina in 1993.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.