Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran – the “unclenched fist” of his January inaugural address – has about 60 days left to run. If Tehran does not respond positively and credibly to his offer of dialogue on nuclear and regional issues by the end of September, all bets are off. At that point, US and European officials say, a new international coalition will set to work on possibly the toughest sanctions imposed on a single country since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The threat of punitive sanctions, with or perhaps without UN security council blessing, is designed to concentrate minds in Tehran distracted by the divisive aftermath of June’s presidential election. But it also serves to discourage the Israelis – at least for now – from taking matters into their own hands by launching a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel’s leaders do not believe dialogue or sanctions will work. But they calculate cynically that they must give Obama’s diplomacy a chance to fail. [continued…]
The failure of the regime to quiet the streets and to close ranks behind Khamenei in his endorsement of a second Ahmadinejad term is without precedent in the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history. As leading U.S.-based Iran scholar Farideh Farhi told the Council on Foreign Relations, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad had assumed that “if they use a sufficient amount of violence, they can put an end to the popular anger that has been generated. [Instead], they continue to be surprised by the resistance that is being shown — not only by major players in Iranian politics, but the people of Iran as well. This dissatisfaction has been growing since the election.”
Where the battle lines within the regime initially appeared to be relatively clear-cut — Ahmadinejad, Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards on one side, facing off against a coalition of conservative pragmatists and reformists on the other, with each side claiming some support from within the clergy — the picture has grown murkier over the eight weeks of crisis. A number of figures in the conservative clerical and political establishment have begun to question the authorities’ handling of the election’s aftermath, particularly the crackdown on dissent. And there are clear signs from within the conservative clergy that some feared Ahmadinejad and the security establishment were usurping some of the traditional prerogatives of the clerical ruling class. [continued…]
Paola Gourley, 40, does not want to know whether the baby she’s carrying will be a boy or a girl. At least, not yet. The father, Maziar Bahari, 42, is in prison in Iran, where he has been held without access to a lawyer or any chance to see his family since June 21. Paola, an Italian-English lawyer working in London, has no idea how much longer Maziar will be kept from her, and this is the first child for both of them. So when sonograms show the gender of their baby, she says she will put the results in an envelope and seal it, hoping that Maziar will be freed soon and they can look at the results together. But in the back of Paola’s mind, there is a growing fear that their baby will be born in November and Maziar will still be in prison.
“I try to keep positive, but that’s my biggest fear, that this is going to be a long-term thing,” she told me from London on Tuesday. “I just hope that the people holding Maziar realize just how unfair it is, and that they release him soon. I am petrified that they will use him as a scapegoat and keep him in jail, and that he won’t be with me when the baby is born. It makes me desperately sad.” [continued…]