A new report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog says Iran may be working to develop a nuclear-armed missile and has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, producing the nuclear fuel needed for an atomic bomb. Iran announced last week that it would build two new uranium enrichment sites hidden in the mountains later this year.
Yet, a new U.N. Security Council resolution imposing biting sanctions looks a long way off.
China is stalling on its promise to support a new set of Security Council sanctions now that Iran has formally rejected the United Nations-brokered deal to ship its enriched uranium abroad for processing, which would have eased concerns that it could use it to build a bomb.
Though China might still be persuaded to change track, the West now has very limited options to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear-armed.
One that has not been tried is to support Iran's internal opposition movement, which is targeting the regime, in tandem with efforts to win over China and other nations to back tougher Security Council sanctions.
The opposition movement may prove to be an indispensable lever against the mullahs.
Iran is currently facing its greatest domestic crisis in 30 years and young Iranians are openly calling for regime change in major anti-government rallies, the most recent on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution on Feb. 11. Critically, Iran has an organized resistance movement that is not an enemy of the West.
In a strange twist, the United States has blacklisted the main Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedin (MeK), which was the first to expose Iran's clandestine uranium enrichment sites.
The MeK was designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 by the Clinton administration in a bid to establish friendly ties with the Iranian government of the time, which the United States thought was more "moderate." But the mullahs have used the ban to execute political opponents, including those arrested in recent months, under the guise of combating terrorism.
With Iran shunning the Obama administration's efforts to reach out to it, and time increasingly running short, the United States needs to lift the MeK's designation and allow it to operate freely.
This would signal to ordinary Iranians that the United States is on their side. It would also sow further disunity among the regime's leaders, many of whom are already questioning Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's ability to successfully repress the wave of popular protests and fend off international action against his regime.
Isolating Ayatollah Khamenei would encourage Iranians to call with greater force for an end to clerical rule. The Iranian Resistance would be able to dedicate its full potential and resources to campaigning for a democratic government instead of having to take part in legal battles in the West to have its designation removed.
At the very least, lifting the ban on the MeK would allow the United States and its partners to negotiate with the regime from a position of strength if ever an opportunity did arise. And it would be a cost-free opportunity for the Obama administration to show some teeth to a pariah regime that understands only the language of force.
(Roger Gale is a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom and a former vice chairman of the Conservative Party.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)