Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are scheduled to vote today on a new Iran sanctions bill that is aimed at cutting Iran's oil exports by another one million barrels over the next year. The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill and it is expected to garner overwhelming bipartisan support in the full House. The House will be sending the right message at precisely the right time to the Iranian regime.
Strong bipartisan support for tougher oil sanctions indicates a broadly shared understanding that a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will succeed and military strikes on Iranian facilities avoided only if Ali Khamenei is convinced that the flow of oil needed to sustain his regime will be cut off. Islamic Republic officials have acknowledged that Iranian oil revenue has dropped by 45 percent since 2011 because of international trade sanctions imposed as a result of the nuclear program.
Some observers, however, argue that the timing of these new sanctions could not be worse because it would send all the wrong signals to the new so-called "moderate" president of the Islamic Republic, who will begin his work on August 3. President-elect Hassan Rouhani, they assert, is the last hope for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute. This view rests upon a fundamental misconception that by now should be apparent to U.S. policymakers.
This underlying misconception is that a new "moderate" president can be expected to fulfill a campaign promise of pursuing "a policy of peace and reconciliation" and thus resolve the nuclear dispute that has been at a stalemate for the past ten years. Six of the seven candidates for president were known hard-liners, and one, Hassan Rouhani, was presented as a "moderate." Rouhani has been a member of the Assembly of Experts since 1999, a member of the Expediency Council since 1991, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council since 1989 and head of the Center for Strategic Research since 1992. All of these organizations are under the direct supervision of the Office of the Supreme Leader and all members are trusted and loyal underlings of Ali Khamenei. More to the point, the reality in Khamenei-controlled Iran is that throughout the years, neither a "reformist" nor a "hardline" president has ever played a role in the nuclear negotiations. The real decision-maker on the nuclear negotiating strategy is and always has been the supreme leader, who inherited final authority on all issues when he succeeded Khomeni in 1989.
The record over the past decade demonstrates that only the imposition of oil sanctions has influenced Khamenei's public statements, let alone his behavior. The EU and later UN Security Council held a series of negotiations with Iranian representatives for years on an agreement to put constraints on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program and to prevent it from developing a nuclear arsenal. Khamenei consistently and deliberately prolonged the negotiations by setting unreasonable and unacceptable preconditions. He remained defiant and his presidential mouthpiece at the time, Ahmadinejad, likened their nuclear program to a train without brakes. The mild sanctions adopted by the Security Council during the course of these negotiations tended to affect the Iranian people far more than the regime, though they were dismissed by the regime as torn pieces of paper. The nuclear program went ahead full speed while billions of dollars in oil revenue continued to flow into the regime's coffers.