Iran already has enough 20 percent enriched uranium for medical isotopes and more than enough 5 percent enriched uranium for its power plant. Further enrichment gives Iran nothing in the way of added security, but it does ensure that the severe sanctions will be sustained and perhaps tightened. And those sanctions are creating tremendous hardships on the Iranian people.
In two weeks, Iran's currency, the rial, has lost a third of its value. It is at an all-time low against the dollar. Iran's oil exports are down to 800,000 barrels a day, a third of what they were a year ago. The cost of food and medicine is soaring. Inflation is running officially at 25 percent. Foreign travel is drying up. Workers are going unpaid.
"We're close to seeing mass unemployment in cities and queues for social handouts," an Iranian-born economic adviser to the European Union told Reuters. "There are few alternatives for those people, and many will end up on the bread line." Last week, merchants marched on parliament and had to be driven back by police using tear gas.
An Iranian businessman in Dubai told Reuters: "Business is drying up. Industry is collapsing. There's zero investment. ... I see it with my own eyes."
In short, the oil embargo and economic sanctions, what Woodrow Wilson called the "peaceful, silent, deadly remedy," are working, and Ahmadinejad -- who leaves office next year -- is rapidly losing support.
So a new question is now on the table. If Iran advances ideas to demonstrate convincingly that it has no weapons program, but insists on what President Obama said he supports -- Iran having a peaceful nuclear program under U.N. inspection -- will America accept that?
Or will we, seeing the economic crisis deepening, make demands so humiliating no Iranian government can accept them, because our true goal is and has always been regime change?
No one would weep if the Islamic Republic fell. But this is a tough crowd that will not go quietly. If we give them no way out, only a choice between national humiliation or escalation, the hard-liners in the regime and Republican Guard will likely take the death-before-dishonor course.