As the latest European effort to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions was rejected by Iran's president Wednesday, experts in the United States made new recommendations on how to resolve the crisis. In the first of two days of Congressional hearings on what the United States should do about Iran's political and nuclear aspirations, experts suggested that the United States explore new sanction possibilities and consider direct talks with Iran.
Given the choice between a strong economy and better relations with the West or a nuclear program that will isolate it from the world, Iran is likely to choose a strong economy, experts told Congress Wednesday.
Despite record-high oil prices, Iran's economy is not flourishing because it lacks adequate foreign investment and has high unemployment. Ken Pollack, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the West's strategy should be to force Iran to choose between having a healthy economy or a nuclear weapons program.
"The key for the international community is to make clear to the Iranians that if they continue down this path, if they continue to resist the will of the international community, their economy will suffer and will suffer very markedly and very quickly," said Ken Pollack.
While some make the argument for U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns that sanctions could backfire, and improve Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's popular support at home. They would also require Chinese and Russian support, which so far has not been forthcoming. Instead, Clawson says Iran's economic problems make it vulnerable to foreign pressure, which if applied on Iran's business sector could further weaken its economy.
"De facto sanctions, which the governments in Europe and also this [U.S.] government have been talking about, may be a good way to persuade businesses to pull out of Iran and to have the impact on the business and economic elite, without having to give a red flag that Ahmadinejad can wave around," said Patrick Clawson.
Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, a member of the opposition Democratic party, said the United States and Iran should talk directly, and not only about the nuclear issue.
"We should be willing to talk about all the issues that divide us: the nuclear program, terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israeli-Palestinian peace, sanctions, and security," noted Senator Biden.
Other Democratic Party senators on the committee and experts on the panel also spoke in favor of direct talks between Washington and Tehran.