Several experts on Iran spoke at a roundtable held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday on the ongoing political crisis in that country and options for U.S foreign policy. They agreed that despite the Iranian government's crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, the opposition movement in Iran is far from over.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Democrat John Kerry said the events in Iran since the country's disputed June 12 election have prompted U.S. and international outrage over the Iranian government's crackdown and sympathy for opposition demonstrators who are demanding a full investigation of the vote.
Kerry said President Barack Obama has delivered a well-calibrated official U.S. response.
"But if we truly hope to empower moderates rather than merely score rhetorical points, we have to recognize how our words are heard half a world away," said Senator Kerry. "America has a long and troubled history with Iran."
Several leading Republican and some Democratic lawmakers have called on President Obama to react more forcefully to Tehran's violent crackdown. The president has said he does not want to give Tehran a pretext to say that the United States is meddling in Iran's internal affairs, and that, as president, his words have consequences.
Analyst Karim Sadjadpour at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agreed with Senator Kerry that Mr. Obama has been right to strike a cautious tone, calling the president's position "mature and well-intentioned". He said that opposition leaders in Iran he has spoken to have not asked that the United States take a tougher stance.
"And I tell people I defer to the leaders of Iran's opposition movement themselves," said Karim Sadjadpour. "And if they continue to ask the United States to tread carefully and refrain from a more direct role, they know their situation much better than we do."
Sadjadpour called on non-Western countries, such as Japan and South Africa, to strongly condemn Tehran's repressive practices and show their solidarity with the protesters.
Michael Singh is an analyst at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the former senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. Singh said he believes that the prospects for engagement with the Tehran government have dimmed and that the United States needs to give Iranian dissidents all of the support it can.
"I do think that if Iran sees that there is no cost to this when there has been such international outcry that that will really hamstring us on the nuclear issue," said Michael Singh. "And we do sort of eventually get back to that, which ultimately we will have to, we have no choice."
The experts agreed that for Iran's government, the crisis has just begun.
Again, analyst Karim Sadjadpour:
"The opposition is entering a new phase," he said. "Instead of flexing their muscles on the streets and trying to bring together large crowds, I think they recognize that the next step for them is to try to target the major arteries of this Iranian economy. And they have called for strikes amongst the merchant classes, the bazaar, among key industries like the petroleum industry, labor groups."
Sadjadpour and other experts advised members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold off on passing resolutions calling for sanctions against Tehran, saying that it is better to wait and let events unfold on the streets of Iran.