The world should tighten the squeeze on Iran over its "mad" nuclear plans to the point where the regime's survival is threatened by its own people, Britain's defense secretary said on Saturday, according to AFP.
Speaking to The Observer newspaper, Philip Hammond said that there were signs the regime was beginning to "fracture" on the issue of its disputed nuclear program.
The West worries Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program but Tehran insists its intentions are purely peaceful.
Hammond's comments come ahead of a meeting of European Union ministers on October 15, when Britain, France and Germany will press for toughening up sanctions on Iran's energy sector and financial institutions.
"There is talk of a general trade embargo and of shutting down the remaining access that Iran has to international banking channels. We can definitely make the pain much greater," he told the weekly.
"The only thing that is likely to budge the regime is if they see or sense an existential threat,” added Hammond. "If the level of economic pressure starts to translate into potentially regime-threatening disruption and dissent on the streets of Tehran, then they may change course."
In one week, Iran's rial currency has shed around 40 percent of its value, sharply accelerating a slide that has gone on over the course of this year as Western sanctions have worsened the Islamic republic's underlying economic woes.
On Wednesday, scuffles broke out in Tehran as citizens protested the country’s failing economy.
"There is evidence that the leadership is beginning to fracture over this question. They are beginning to turn on each other as the pain gets transmitted through. And they can end it all instantly," Hammond said.
"Their professed position is that they're enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. Nobody believes them."
He stressed that nobody was out to cause more suffering for the Iranian people and said regime change was not the aim -- it was merely to apply the pressure needed to force Tehran to drop its nuclear program.
"There is further tightening we can do," Hammond said. "We can definitely make the pain much greater. Nobody wants to cause the Iranian people to suffer unnecessarily but this mad scheme to build a bomb has to be brought to an end."
On Friday it was reported that members of the U.S. Congress are exploring possibilities to toughen the sanctions on the Islamic Republic even further.
The sanctions currently being imposed on Tehran mainly include a prohibition of trade with the Iranian central bank in terms of oil. U.S. lawmakers are now looking at possibly imposing a comprehensive trade prohibition on many other Iranian goods.