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UN Sanctions Should Weaken Support for Iran's Ahmadinejad, Expert Says

(Washington, DC -- March 3, 2006) If the United Nations Security Council decides to impose sanctions on Iran in the coming months, domestic support will wane for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to a prominent Iranian analyst. Alex Vatanka, Eurasia Editor for Jane's Information Group, told a recent RFE/RL audience that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."

Vatanka said that sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If severe economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."

Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since President Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."

Although Ahmadinejad ran for president as a populist, stressing domestic issues such as eliminating poverty, anti-corruption, and a call for redistribution of wealth, Vatanka said "he has spent most of his time on the nuclear dispute." Vatanka concluded that, because Ahmadinejad "hasn't delivered on any [campaign] promises," he has become vulnerable among his electorate. If sanctions are imposed on Iran, Vatanka said that the level of frustration among the Iranian population will rise to a point at which Ahmadinejad's position will become untenable.

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.