Consumers, already suffering, face new privation.
TEHRAN - As the West has tightened its economic chokehold in an effort to force Iran's government to scale back its nuclear program, Iranians have coped by cutting back.
Ali, a 31-year-old employee at a Tehran print shop, doesn't buy as much chicken or red meat as before and has stopped going to the barber. He gave up smoking Marlboros for cheaper Iranian-made Bahmans, and he asked his wife to quit her yoga classes.
"I've downsized my life," said Ali, who asked that he not be further identified out of fear for his safety.
Soon he and other Iranians will probably have to downsize much more.
Over the next few days, Western governments will launch their toughest sanctions yet against Iran. The steps are designed to eviscerate the oil-based economy, and to test Tehran's determination to keep enriching uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
The United States and the European Union will impose an oil embargo, as well as a ban on tanker insurance and other measures that analysts say could slash Iran's foreign sales of oil -- its largest source of revenue -- by more than half.
That would cost Iran about $4 billion a month, experts say, a substantial amount given the country's estimated foreign currency reserves of $60 billion to $100 billion.
In three rounds of negotiations with world powers this year, Iranian officials showed little inclination to compromise. They insist their nation's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. A new round of talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany is to open next week.
Western officials and analysts say Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may reconsider Iran's position if the tightening sanctions stir unhappiness among merchants and consumers. Perhaps more important will be the squeeze on businesses and industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a key part of the power structure that is influential with Khamenei.
"As time passes and dollars are lost, inevitably ordinary Iranians are going to ask the question, 'Is it worth it?'" said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official now at the Eurasia Group consulting firm in Washington.
For Khamenei, however, suffering the deepening privation may be a matter of national pride and regime survival.