Many of us at IWF have been monitoring the case of Sakineh Ashtiani-the 42-year old mother of two who was convicted of adultery in Iran and sentenced to death by stoning. 

Now, Ilan Berman, Vice Presdient of the American Foreign Policy Council offers an interesting perspective in today’s Wall Street Journalon why Ashtiani’s case might provide the West an opportunity to improve human rights in Iran and why the international community has more leverage over Iran’s internal conduct than commonly assumed: 

Still, Tehran’s decision to stay Mrs. Ashtiani’s stoning is significant. It suggests that Iran-beset by economic sanctions over its nuclear program and desperate for international validation of its place as a global power-is susceptible to external pressure over its human rights practices. 

The echoes of the Cold War are unmistakable. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. altered the way the Soviet Union treated its own population by leveraging the free market. That initiative-dubbed “Jackson-Vanik” after its two main cosponsors, Democratic Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Democratic Rep. Charles Vanik-linked most-favored-nation trading status for the Soviet Union to a liberalization of Moscow’s emigration policies. Eager to engage in commerce with the West, the Kremlin loosened restrictions on travel, granting freedom to a generation of Soviet dissidents. In the process, it laid the groundwork for glasnost, perestroika, and the fall of the Soviet Union itself. 

Can the same be accomplished with Iran? It’s still too early to tell. But Mrs. Ashtiani’s case suggests that the international community has more leverage over Iran’s internal conduct than commonly assumed. It is up to the West to use that opening wisely, to craft a human rights policy that rolls back repression within the Islamic Republic. 

Berman’s right. It is up to the West–namely President Obama–to use this opening wisely.  Hopefully, the President will indeed see this as an opportunity to help… not a moment to be passed up for fear of being seen as “meddling” in Iran’s internal affairs.