An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that a U.S. intelligence official had described regime collapse as a goal of U.S. and other sanctions against Iran. An updated version clarifies the official’s remarks.
Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says
The Obama administration sees economic sanctions against Iran as building public discontent that will help compel the government to abandon an alleged nuclear weapons program, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.
In addition to influencing Iranian leaders directly, the official said, “another option here is that [sanctions] will create hate and discontent at the street level so that the Iranian leaders realize that they need to change their ways.”
The intelligence official’s remarks pointed to what has long been an unstated reality of sanctions: Although designed to pressure a government to change its policies, they often impose broad hardships on a population. The official spoke this week on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration assessments.
The comments came as the administration readies punitive new sanctions that affect Iran’s central bank and the European Union moves toward strict curbs on Iranian oil imports.
A senior administration official, speaking separately, acknowledged that public discontent was a likely result of more punitive sanctions against Iran’s already faltering economy, but said that is not the direct intent.
“We have a policy that is rooted in the notion that you need to supply sufficient pressure to compel [the government] to change behavior as it’s related to their nuclear program,” this official said.
“The question is whether people in the government feel pressure from the fact that there’s public discontent,” the official said, “versus whether the sanctions themselves are intended to collapse the regime.”
A Western diplomat familiar with the policy said that it was “introducing in the cost-benefit analysis a new parameter in the calculus” of the Iranian government. “To the extent we have done that, it is not because we want to collapse the government. It is because we want the Iranian government to understand that is a possible cost in continuing the way it is,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the intent of the policy.
Dennis B. Ross, who managed Iran policy on the National Security Council staff until November, said, “The sanctions all along have been designed to put the Iranians in a position where they had to make a choice, and if they did not make a choice, that they realize the price for not doing so would be high. . . . They are absorbing a price now that they themselves do not want to absorb.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed international concerns about an Iranian nuclear weapon this week, calling it “a joke.”
“It’s something to laugh at,” Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Venezuela, the Associated Press reported from Caracas. “It’s clear they’re afraid of our development.”
Obama’s Iran policy, which began with an attempt to engage that nation’s civilian and clerical leadership, has come under withering criticism from Republican presidential candidates eager to cast him as weak abroad. The GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, has said that “if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.”