How to squeeze Iran on the nuclear issue

In an all-too familiar ritual, the United States and Iran are once more contemplating their diplomatic dance. The question that has perennially bedeviled Washington and its allies is how to compel the theocratic regime in Tehran to alter its objectionable practices. As a rational and pragmatic democracy, the United States perceives that economic pressure will compel Iran’s leaders to yield on strategic priorities in order to relieve financial distress. The Islamic Republic has its vulnerabilities; however, too narrow a focus on its economic deficiencies has obscured its manifest political weaknesses. An insistence on human rights and the empowerment of the Green Movement can pave the way for Iran’s transition to a more tolerant society and provide the West an indispensable lever for tempering the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.

In one of Iran’s great paradoxes, a nation in clutches of clerical despotism has given birth to the most intellectually vibrant democratic movement in the contemporary Middle East. The Green Movement, which traverses all of Iran’s social classes, has reconceptualized the relationship between the public and the state, as well as religion and democracy. At its core, a movement that emphasizes the need for the public’s consent, respect for global opinion and relaxation of onerous cultural restrictions is a denial of the politics of intolerance practiced by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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