Monday, January 23, 2006

West talks tough with Iran, treads lightly

WSJ (via Iran va Jahan) - As U.S. and European officials press to have Iran brought before the United Nations Security Council, they are also promising that Tehran won't face serious punishment there -- for quite a while.

Even as they press for a showdown with Tehran, American officials privately acknowledge that they aren't sure how to calibrate political or economic sanctions to bring maximum pressure on Iran's leadership without alienating the country's pro-reform and pro-American public. In recent weeks, officials in Washington and London have begun thinking about an aggressive public-relations campaign, beamed into Iran, to counteract Tehran's certain efforts to incite a strong nationalist backlash.

As for what sanctions the U.S. and Europe might press for, officials say they could start with a travel ban for key government leaders and a ban on sales to Iran's nuclear and missile programs and any front companies.

Mr. Milani [ Abbas Milani, an expert on Iran's politics at Stanford University] from the Hoover Institution is arguing for "smart sanctions": cracking down on the government's finances, and military- and nuclear-related trade, while encouraging significantly more contact and trade with Iran's civil society, in hopes of sparking a democratic movement. He acknowledges that such a policy would be politically difficult for the U.S. to put into practice, especially amid the standoff, and it could take years to produce results. He is skeptical that any outside pressure, short of a full ban on Iran's gasoline imports and oil and gas exports, would persuade Mr. Ahmadinejad and the clerical establishment to curtail their nuclear ambitions.

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In other news:

Expatica, Netherlands - Iran claims 'conspiracies' isolating football team: Iran has so far failed to find a country ready to play against the national team in test games before the World Cup, reportedly due to anti-Semitic remarks by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's defiance to stop its controversial nuclear programmes.

Christopher Dickey, Newsweek - Countdown to a Showdown: If Armageddon happens, those who survive will look back and see the warnings—so many of them—that were somehow lost from view in the numbing rush of 24/7 news. They will remember that Iran pushed ahead with a nuclear program it claimed was peaceful, although no one (not even some of those who defended its right to do so) really believed that was the case.