The dissidents’ view: The fourth round of United Nations sanctions passed in June, and the even-more-onerous economic measures taken by the United States and the European Union since then are working to the advantage of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime by helping it consolidate power.
The two prominent dissidents who have spoken up are the unsuccessful presidential candidate in last year’s elections, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a former speaker of Iran’s parliament, Mehdi Karroubi. They say in a public letter that the tougher sanctions only hurt “the most vulnerable social classes of Iran” and are a boon to the ruling powers.
The recent letter runs counter to the Obama administration’s stance, as presented recently by the president, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and other officials. Their view: sanctions are beginning to bite and could prompt Tehran’s return to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.
US intelligence also suggests that Iran’s nuclear program is running into technical difficulties, some administration officials say, a development they suggest opens the window of opportunity a little wider for a diplomatic solution.
Dissidents: Iran will never play ball
The view of the dissidents is that the sanctions will likely never force Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions – and some foreign policy experts agree. They argue that sanctions on Cuba and North Korea have not forced those governments to bow to outside pressure.
But the economic sanctions are hurting average Iranians, which runs counter to the international community’s interests, the dissidents add. Beyond that, they say the sanctions have provided the regime with a pretext for cracking down further on the political opposition by equating it with Iran’s foreign “enemies.”
Even as he touts the sanctions’ impact, President Obama acknowledges the possibility that no amount of external pressure may compel Iran’s leaders to give up their nuclear program. Most Western powers have concluded the program is aimed at delivering a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is strictly for power generation and other peaceful purposes.
In a recent meeting with Washington columnists and TV anchors, Mr. Obama said it may be that Tehran’s commitment to possessing nuclear weapons is so strong that no hardship can throw it off that course. And he suggested that, in such a case, the Iranian leadership should be prepared to pay a high price.
“If Iran’s national pride drives their policy, then they will bear the costs of that,” Obama said, according to several participants’ reporting of the meeting.
'All options' hurt Iranians
Administration officials say Tehran is sending out feelers about a possible return to talks in Geneva with the big international powers, perhaps as early as September.
But Obama continues to qualify any hopeful discussion of Iran with the caveat that “all options” remain at the US’s disposal: meaning that recourse to military force is not ruled out if the Iranian government remains on its current nuclear path.
Just how much a military attack could set back Iran’s nuclear program remains hotly contested. But like sanctions, it is another scenario, according to some Iranian dissidents, where the Iranian public would be likely to bear the brunt of international action.
Some of the nuclear sites are in distant, sparsely populated areas, but some are not. Also, taking out Iran's nuclear sites would not be like Israel's one-strike-does-it attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. Most experts say any attack would have to hit many sites and would take more than one night's sortie.
Because of that, any attack would risk more mistakes – like hitting civilians or installations that civilians depend on.