Friday, 5 February 2010

Obama's Iran test

By Lord David Alton

The Hill - As US President Barack Obama used his first State of the Union Address to lash out at Iran over its continuing nuclear defiance, it was clear that 2010 will see a new approach in dealing with Tehran.

How things have changed since, one year ago in January 2009, in his first sit-down interview, President Obama symbolically used an exchange on Al- Arabiya TV to offer a conciliatory approach in his conduct of American-Iranian relations. President Obama then told the news channel, that "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."

Well, Tehran's fist has remained well and truly clenched not least over its nuclear intentions.

Tehran sees its sole method of survival through its success over its nuclear weapons programme; of that, there is little doubt. This is even more so now as the regime, weakened at home by the mass protests of the last six months, looks to its nuclear programme as a safety net for survival.

The time has come for the international community to pull this safety net from under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Tehran's leadership, allowing the Iranian regime to fall at the hands of the Iranian people. The removal of that safety net can only be achieved with the imposition of targeted sanctions against Tehran's leadership.

As the Iranian opposition movement gears up for further mass protests on the 31st anniversary of the people's revolution on 11 February, the message from the President and his European counterparts must be one of support. The Iranian leadership has long been isolated from its people and now there can be no doubt as to the Iranian people's demands for regime change.

Yes sanctions must be targeted at Tehran's leadership and yes they must be put together in such a manner as to have the least effect on the Iranian people. The Iranian people are well aware that their leaders live like kings as they suffer economic hardship.

We have all watched the recent protests in which Iranians have lined the streets knowing full well that by protesting they could face death or torture. Those same people will be supportive of any economic and diplomatic sanctions which bring an early end to the more than thirty years of ruthless tyrannical rule by Iran's theocratic masters.

In a clear warning to the Iranian population ready to line the streets in the coming weeks, Tehran's leadership recently executed two dissidents accused of plotting to overthrow the regime. At least nine others face execution, accused of having links to the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI). The PMOI is Iran's largest opposition group and analysts believe it has played an integral role in recent unrest throughout Tehran.

One thing should now be clear to President Obama and his allies, Tehran will not unclench its fist when it comes to its nuclear programme, and the Iranian people will not yield in their desire for regime change.

The two now go hand in hand and support for the Iranian people's opposition movement must include the removal of the nuclear safety net which is integral to this regime's survival. As in all such scenarios the leadership must be isolated, and sanctions can achieve this aim. UN Security Council sanctions are critical, but if China continues to play hard ball and to use its veto, the West must forge ahead and impose its own comprehensive sanctions and not adopt a set of watered down sanctions which are symbolic rather than successful, simply to please China.

We can remove Tehran's nuclear safety net and we must do so in order to support the Iranian people's democratic ambitions.
Lord Alton of Liverpool is a cross-bench Member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom


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