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Now is the time to confront Iran

National Post
July 25, 2009

Even as Iran supports terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, and races toward construction of a nuclear bomb, the world has done little to confront it. Many world leaders seem fatalistically resigned toward accepting the Islamist theocracy as a major nuclear-armed regional power.

But the tide may be turning -- courtesy of none other than Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his handpicked President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad's fraudulent re-election last month, and the brutal crackdown against protesters that followed it, have stirred up long simmering resentment at home. At the same time, these events have shone a light on an appalling human-rights record that includes secret prisons, torture, child executions, state-sanctioned rape and the murder of regime opponents.

After three decades of an Islamic revolution that has squandered the material and spiritual wealth of a once-great civilization, the Iranian regime is vulnerable -- facing a severe political and economic crisis at home and diminished influence abroad.

In the U. S. Congress, Democrats and Republicans are ready to exploit that vulnerability to peacefully persuade the regime to abandon its nuclear program or face, in the words of U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "crippling economic sanctions."

Over two-thirds of the U. S Senate and more than half of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. The bill, based on research by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), targets Iran's most serious economic Achilles heel -- its heavy dependence on imports of gasoline. This trade is facilitated by a handful of mostly European foreign energy suppliers -- Vitol, Trafigura, Total, Glencore and Shell, as well as the Indian company Reliance Industries. Insurance and reinsurance companies from Britain, Germany, Norway and Japan also make this trade possible by underwriting these shipments.

Many of these companies have significant business interests in Canada. As U. S. Congressman Brad Sherman wrote yesterday in these pages -- in the concluding piece of a four-part series run by this paper in association with FDD--Canada therefore has a critical role to play in the implementation of a refined-petroleum embargo. Building on the momentum in the United States on this issue, he sensibly argued that Canada should put Iran's gasoline providers to a choice between the unstable Iranian dictatorship and Canada's energy riches.

This campaign isn't just about pressuring Iran to stop its dangerous nuclear program--a program whose success would give Iran's ruling mullahs the opportunity to realize their cherished goal of annihilating Israel. It is also about the human rights of Iran's own women and children.

In her contribution to the series on Wednesday, Canadian human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam provided a horrific glimpse into the brutalities of the regime, noting that at least 160 alleged child offenders await execution. In a companion piece, Tarek Fatah described a consistent pattern of rape by Basiji militia members as an instrument of subjugation by the regime, including a report of a practice of raping young Iranian girls prior to their execution to ensure that, in accordance with a highly dubious interpretation of Islam, they are not murdered as virgins.

In his contribution on Thursday, internationally recognized human-rights expert Irwin Cotler underscored the importance of focusing on the Iranian regime's human-rights record. He has introduced the Iran Accountability Act in Parliament to focus attention not only on Iran's nuclear program, but also on its domestic repression and genocidal incitement. He, too, calls for Canada to leverage its energy riches by putting Iran's refined petroleum suppliers to a choice between the Canadian and Iranian markets.

Will such a campaign work? It might -- especially given Iran's current vulnerability. But even if it fails, there is moral value in trying peaceful methods before military options present themselves. As Mark Dubowitz of the FDD argued in these pages on Tuesday, "No one could argue that countries threatened by Iran had ignored peaceful alternatives."

Canadian politicians should consider joining their American counterparts on this issue. With a new session of Parliament starting, and Barack Obama hosting the G20, at which the Iran file will surely be prominent, September might be a good month to turn the Iran gasoline sanctions idea into meaningful government action. After so many years of dithering, the opportunity to decisively confront Iran's rulers may now be at hand.

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