To the relief of Iran's decision makers, the revolutions of the Arab spring have distracted global leaders from the Iranian nuclear standoff which seems to have drifted away from the headlines.
Both the Clinton and Bush administration made efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear development by employing policies ranging from diplomatic negotiations to economic sanctions. However, the Iran's leaders have remained steadfast in their nuclear ambitions and, as a result, the United States has not been able to defuse the long-standing confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. Successive rounds of negotiations and efforts by the United Nations and IAEA have not succeeded in pushing Iranian leaders to back down regarding their nuclear program.
The two administrations also endorsed the EU-3 diplomatic initiative and later joined the broader P5 +1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) diplomatic initiative. However, Tehran dismissed these diplomatic offers and has ignored three rounds of mild sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
In Iran, the nuclear program has long been a point of consensus across Iran's political spectrum and prospects for a strategic shift in Tehran's foreign policy are even more unlikely now that an internal split has divided the clerical Supreme Leader and the political left.
Furthermore, Iran's leaders are determined to pursue their nuclear program as a way to preserve their power and deter future humanitarian intervention, given the growing discontent of its citizenry and its record of human rights abuses.
In terms of the nuclear proliferation, the events of the Arab Spring seem to have benefited the Iranian regime due to the fact that it has diverted the attention of the international community from Iranian nuclear development to the socio-political transitions in neighboring Arab nations.
According to the U.S. intelligence community, Iran is "keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so…” (Director of National Intelligence, Admiral James Clapper in February 2011).
Moreover, one of the factors that has contributed to Iran’s ability to withstand sanctions and the economic pressure on its domestic policy and economical mismanagement is that its capability has been buoyed by rising oil prices. It has also, in the last decade, expanded its economic ties with countries such as China, Turkey and Brazil.
Additionally, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently gave a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, pushed the United States to confront Iran. In his speech he said, "Time is running out, and the hinge of history may soon turn. For the greatest danger facing humanity could soon be upon us: A militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons."
Here's what the Obama administration can do right now: First, apply pressure on the Iranian government by sanctioning the import and export of arms to and from Iran by sea and air. Additionally, measures should be taken to deter Gulf States from engaging in any trade or financial transactions with Iran.
Next, the U.S. should encourage Gulf States to freeze significant Iranian assets in their banks.
Additionally, the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency should put more pressure on Iran to ratify the Additional Protocol which provides for snap inspections. Iranian leaders must address the question of preventing break-out from the NPT.
Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-Syrian scholar, columnist for Harvard International Review and the newly assigned ambassador for National Iranian American Council.