A former international weapons inspector assessed Tuesday that engaging Iran on its nuclear program hadn't worked and called for a containment and deterrence regime to accompany an increase in pressure on Teheran.
David Albright, who once worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that "negotiations are going nowhere" and urged a comprehensive program of sanctions, increased regional missile defense, regional arms control and more aid to Israel as well as concessions on Jerusalem's alleged nuclear weapons program.
"There needs to be a reorientation toward this kind of strategy," Albright said, speaking to The Jerusalem Post after participating on a Foundation for Defense of Democracies panel on preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.
"You need to shift more toward a policy of pressure. Sanctions and offers of negotiations are not enough." Still, he indicated that he backed both measures, and that the former should be a comprehensive "economic tax" which inflicts pain on the Islamic republic.
Two Iranian experts who participated in Tuesday's panel, though, called for any sanctions to be targeted and focus more narrowly on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other leading political-military actors so that those behind Iran's aggressive stance would be hurt rather than the general public.
They also called for sanctions to be implemented in the context of pressing Teheran for democracy and human rights, arguing that that would help undermine the regime more than focusing on the nuclear issue.
"Sanctions implemented in the name of human rights, in the name of democracy, would help Iranian civil society," said Farhad Khosrokhavar, author of 14 books on Iran, Islam and radicalism, who said money reaped by the IRCG and similar groups doesn't reach the middle class anyway.
Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that the US administration could do more in general to help the reformers, who have opposed the current leadership ever since the contested presidential elections in June were held.
"The administration could stand to be more outspoken about rights issues is Iran, and [indicate] that we recognize which is the right side of history," he said.
That perspective was particularly important since it is the nature of the current regime that most needed to change for there to be headway on the nuclear issue, according to Sadjadpour: "The underlying problem we have is the character of the regime more than its nuclear ambitions." Khosrokhavar stressed that obtaining a nuclear capacity, in addition to opposing the US, was too important to the current regime to make it inconceivable that it would abandon the effort in a deal with the West.
"I don't think this government can make any major concessions on the nuclear issue because their identity is based on it," he said. "Their own survival is related to the nuclear issue." And Sadjadpour said that when Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, felt threatened internally or externally, his default position is "always defiance" and that "you never compromise under pressure."
Still, Albright raised questions about the reformers on the nuclear issue and criticized opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi for pushing to scuttle aspects of a US-Iran arrangement on nuclear processing.
Such "opportunism," he contended, "doesn't help." The Iranian experts appearing alongside Albright, however, defended the Iranian opposition as having little choice but to support the nuclear program publicly given their delicate position, and Khosrokhavar argued a new regime lead by the reformists would be "much more flexible" toward the US on the nuclear program.
Sadjadpour also pointed out that "the opposition is far less belligerent towards Israel." However, they assessed that the reformers are unlikely to head a new regime any time soon.
"This movement isn't able in the current configuration to topple the government," said Khosrokhavar, but since the government couldn't suppress it entirely, a certain "malaise" had taken over.
In the meantime, he said, the government is looking to break the deadlock and find a way to break apart the opposition, and suggested "they are keen to have some kind of military confrontation with the West" to justify doing just that.
Albright voiced opposition to a military option, questioning how seriously it would set back the Iranian nuclear program, but he said that it was important to make clear the US would respond aggressively to any attack.
To this end, he said it was also important for military aid to Israel to be bolstered as well as other defensive military measures taken to protect against a scenario in which Iran's program wasn't stopped.
Albright said that Israel should be willing to make small concessions on testing and other aspects of its own nuclear program to foster contributions from the Arab world and keep countries like Egypt from also attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.
"You need to take some air out of the balloon," he said of the Israeli nuclear program. "If there's nothing done by Israel than it's harder for the Arab states to make concessions."