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Time to embargo Iran

Oct 11, 2012 - By The Chicago Tribune

Iran's currency took such a breathtaking nose dive against the dollar last week that even the country's denier-in-chief, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to admit that economic sanctions were cutting deep.

Tens of thousands of Iranian merchants, workers, shopkeepers and activists flooded Tehran's streets in protest, chanting anti-government slogans. Some shouted, "We don't want nuclear energy," a sign that the protesters rightly blamed the regime's refusal to stop its rogue nuclear program for causing the economic pain.

Inflation is raging in Iran. So is unemployment. People are angry. To stop Iran's outlaw nuclear program -- the imperative here -- the economic pain needs to get worse. Much worse.

Encouraging news: The Wall Street Journal reports that American and European Union officials are considering dramatically expanding sanctions by imposing "a de facto trade embargo" by early 2013. Such a move would block all export and import transactions through Iran's banking system. Current sanctions cover only oil-related transactions through Iran's central bank. Such a move could be devastating. Iran wouldn't be able to pay its bills or collect its debts through the global banking system.

One word of advice: Hurry.

Iran is already reeling from the EU's ban earlier this year on imports of Iranian oil. Overall, Iran's oil exports have been cut in half, costing Tehran billions. The ruling mullahs may have figured the country's oil wealth would make it invulnerable to sanctions. Not anymore.

"We're not certain that such a dramatic squeeze will convince the mullahs to surrender their nuclear ambitions. Iran has spent the better part of a decade busting through red lines drawn by the West. Tehran now could produce enough weapons-grade fuel for a bomb within two to four months, although actually building a bomb would take longer, the Institute for Science and International Security said Monday.

A banking freeze could force the mullahs back to the bargaining table, this time in good faith. The outlines of a reasonable nuclear deal are clear: Iran ships all of its higher-enriched uranium out of the country and shuts its underground fortress at Fordo. The U.S. and its allies ease sanctions in stages, as Iran allows international inspectors free rein to make sure that its government is not hiding enrichment plants or nuclear weapons facilities. Iran is allowed to keep its Russian-built nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

There are hints that the mullahs may be spooked. The New York Times reported last week that Iran had proposed a nine-step deal to resolve the standoff on its rogue nuclear program ... if Western governments first lifted all sanctions. Iran later denied it had offered such a proposal, probably because it was turned down flat. Smart move by U.S. officials: Iran could easily restart its nuclear programs, while sanctions would take years to reimpose.

Earlier this year, a group of former American, Israeli and British officials wrote that Iran's nuclear program might still be halted with a "potentially decisive economic blow to the regime." That would show the mullahs "that the world is serious and committed, willing to do whatever it takes to stop Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Time for that blow. Embargo Iran.

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