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John Hughes

The Iran pot bubbles. Will it cook Obama?

A new IAEA report claims Iran has worked on a nuclear weapon, a program only temporarily set back by 'Stuxnet.' Now, Israel ponders a military strike. What's next – more sanctions, a call for regime change, even war? These questions bear down on Obama in an election year.

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Some critics inside and outside Iran fault the administration for not more vigorously supporting the Iranian “Green Movement,” whose members have suffered beatings and imprisonment in protest of government policies. However, other Iranians warn against overt American support that could enable the regime to dismiss the protests as US-inspired and managed.

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In a recent radio interview with BBC Persia beamed to Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed to harden the US position somewhat when she declared that Iran was “morphing into a military dictatorship” and she would welcome “anything that can be done from within Iran to send a message to the regime that it is important to change behavior.” 

She added: “I cannot believe that there aren’t tens of thousands of educated, smart, influential Iranians who can’t begin to say: ‘Hey, we got to make some changes here. We need to look at how we are governing ourselves.’ ”

Ms. Clinton announced the pending launch of a “virtual embassy” on the Web in Tehran to encourage study in and travel to the US, bolstered by more visas for Iranian students. 

The UN warnings on Iran’s nuclear weaponry ambitions, and the threat of an Israeli preemptive strike, come at a time of internal tension in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are in an increasingly public feud that could result in the eclipse or even elimination of the presidency. 

Clinton’s reference to a “morphing military dictatorship” could be related to the power of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and its alleged involvement in a plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador on American soil. 

Can tougher sanctions against Iran be effective? Is regime change now called for? Will a military strike take place? Will other Arab nations, fearful of Iran, seek nuclear weapons? These are questions the president had surely hoped would not arise in the midst of a close presidential election campaign.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.

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