By David Alton, member, British House of Lords The Hill, 19 Nov 2012 – Four more years! Four more years! This was the chant the Obama faithful shouted as their man won victory earlier this month. However, as the celebrations continued long into the night, Iran analysts were wondering what impact four more years would bring to relations between Tehran and Washington.
Although a battle fought very much over the issues of economy, tax and other specifically national issues, Obama was lambasted by the Republicans over his international failures. In the end not a determining factor for this election, there is clear concern about the way the Obama Administration has handled relations with Tehran. Two specific examples continuously pointed to are the fact that this administration was weak in its support for uprisings inside Iran and has throughout the four years been walking on egg shells with the Iranian regime over its nuclear ambitions.
We must not forget that the president had come to power with the mantra, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist“. Seen to be a message to Tehran’s leadership at the time, the worry is that this administration has simply extended the hand to Iran and received nothing in return.
In fact it appears that Tehran’s leadership has decided to respond to the words of the president four years on. Iran’s Vice President Mohamad Reza Rahimi was quoted by the Iranian regime’s news agency IRNA as saying, “We will break the grasping hands of Obama and we will be successful in bypassing the sanctions“. If ever words could describe the regime’s response to the president’s overtures then these were those words.
Four years on, Tehran continues to lead the U.S. and its international partners down a merry path, the end of which for this regime is a nuclear weapon and the cementing of its future. There are however positives to be taken by such a reaction from the regime. The regime has been shaken by international sanctions which are slowing finance to Tehran’s leadership. Much of Iran’s economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, the regime’s staunchest backers and they are beginning to be hit hard by these sanctions.
While the regime has been squeezed by these sanctions it is clear that although they may slow its nuclear ambitions they will not prevent them. The regime has in fact made significant nuclear advances, not least in the critical area of enriching uranium to the required level.
The president has extended the hand to Tehran for four years, four years too many. As with his predecessors he has seen Tehran react to his friendly advances with scorn. The regime comes to the negotiating table, offers nothing and walks away having bought itself further time to advance its nuclear weapons program.
The president’s supporters will look forward to four more years, but in reality he will not have the luxury of that time to deal with Iran. The regime is edging closer to a nuclear weapon. On the other hand the mullahs engulfed in internal crisis, have resorted to intensifying repression and public executions. Over 450 people have been hanged since the beginning of this year. Thus a change in policy must take place now.
Iran’s opposition on the back of being delisted as a terrorist organization earlier this year by Secretary Clinton gathered in Paris on November 17 to forward their ideals. Backed by a strong following of international lawmakers and thousands of Iranian supporters, the event is seen by many as a new beginning for the Iranian opposition movement.
Speakers led by Mrs Rajavi told the president that the time for negotiations is up and a firm policy must be undertaken. Not a policy which involves military intervention, but one which extends the hand of friendship to the Iranian people and their opposition movement rather than Tehran’s tyrannical leaders.
I for one will be supporting what has been labelled by the opposition as the third way, not war, not appeasement, but supporting the Iranian people’s ambition to bring about regime change. Only in this way can we lead the world towards a nuclear free Iran and an Iran which is democratic, secular and pluralist. Take the right path President Obama and you will be remembered as a heroic leader, fail and four years on we could all be sitting here discussing a nuclear armed Iran.
Alton is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom and a member of the British House of Lords.