The headline is a bit misleading, since the core issue is whether (in fact, how rather than whether) the Obama Administration will be pursuing and presenting additional sanctions against Iran: "The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said...U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear program."
The presentation, however, is telling. For weeks, the set-up for sanctions --- for example, in the articles of David Sanger and William Broad in The New York Times --- has been that they were essential to punish Iran for breakdown of enrichment talks and Tehran's move toward a military nuclear capability. Now, for the first time, the message is not just that "rights" should take priority but that there may be a change of power in Iran: "The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government and moving to find ways to support Iran's opposition 'Green Movement'."
Read it: the authority of President Ahmadinejad is no longer assumed, even bolstered, by the US approach. An Administration source declares, "The Green Movement has demonstrated more staying power than perhaps some have anticipated. The regime is internally losing its legitimacy, which is of its own doing."
So which US officials are now tying "targeted sanctions" to this shift away from Ahmadinejad and visions of a new leadership? Here's the big clue:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered over coffee at the State Department this week with four leading Iran scholars and mapped out the current dynamics, said U.S. officials. One issue explored was how the U.S. should respond if Tehran suddenly expressed a desire to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. Mrs. Clinton asked whether the U.S. could reach a pact without crippling the prospects for the Green Movement.
In September, Clinton and her advisors had a similar discussion. The leading Iran scholars on that occasion? "The Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour, the New America Foundation's Afshin Molavi, the National Iranian American Council's Trita Parsi, the Council on Foreign Relations' Ray Takeyh, the Woodrow Wilson's Haleh Esfandiari, Brookings' Suzanne Maloney, and George Mason University's Shaul Bakhash."
In recent weeks, Parsi's NIAC has been pushing the approach of targeted sanctions linked to rights, not the nuclear issue, and Takeyh has been promoting a rights-first policy. So I suspect that The Wall Street Journal article is declaring a convergence between the Obama Administration and the private sphere.
If so, welcome back Green movement. And President Ahmadinejad may have lost his nuclear prop from Washington.