Cliff May
President Obama has long wanted to engage Iran. In his inaugural address, he said he was willing to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Over and over, Iran’s rulers have demonstrated that they are not willing. He should reach out again — but this time to the Iranian people, not those who oppress them.

Iran’s economy is crumbling . The energy-rich nation today produces only half as much oil as it did before the 1979 revolution. Mismanagement is the main reason. But because of American and European sanctions, exports of the oil the regime does manage to produce — Iran’s only significant product — are down by 40 percent compared with a year ago. That’s costing the regime an estimated $4.5 billion per month.

On July 1, a European oil embargo went into effect. Tens of millions of barrels of unsold Iranian oil are already being stored in tankers offshore. When Iran’s rulers run out of storage space, they will face a choice: discount their oil even more steeply in an attempt to sell to anyone still willing to buy from them, or cut production further.

Iran’s currency, the rial, is now worth about half what it was before sanctions were imposed. Consumer prices have risen by an estimated 40 percent. Unemployment is rising, too, especially among the young.

The American president needs to explain to ordinary Iranians why this is happening to them, why it will get worse, and who is to blame.

He might begin by noting that negotiations between Iran and the West have gone nowhere because Iran’s rulers have been unwilling to compromise and unwilling to halt a nuclear-weapons program that egregiously violates international law. And, adding insult to intransigence, Iran’s Majlis speaker, Ali Larijani, last week issued yet another threat to America, Europe, and Israel: “Today, the time has come for the disappearance of the West and the Zionist regime — which are two dark spots in the present era — from the face of the universe.”

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.