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NORTH: Clear and present danger

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COMMENTARY:

Now that the festivities are over, it is time for the masters of the media to stop asking inane questions of the new folks in town - like "how do you like your new office?" and for the Obama administration to get down to work on a clear and present danger.

Notwithstanding the "Day One" and "First Week" coverage, the most pressing issue confronting the American people isn't closing "Gitmo," or the always ephemeral "Mideast Peace Process" in the aftermath of Gaza or even "fixing the economy." Item No. 1 ought to be preventing the world's No. 1 exporter of radical Islamic terror, Iran, from obtaining nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the new administration is not off to an auspicious start.

Last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Inaugural, the Obama White House Web site announced, inter alia, that they will engage in "tough and direct" diplomacy with Iran "without preconditions" and that Mr. Obama intends to use "the power of American diplomacy" to deal with "Iran's illicit nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats towards Israel." According to the statement, the new commander in chief believes that, "seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress." If that's really what Mr. Obama believes, he is - to put it politely - mistaken. This "new approach" includes little more than what our European allies have been trying for more than five years.

The White House statement suggests that if Iran abandons its effort to acquire nuclear weapons the United States would offer incentives such as membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), new economic investment and normalized diplomatic relations. It also notes that if Iran continues its "troubling behavior," we would lead efforts to further Iranian economic and political isolation. The only difference between this proposal and the Bush administration's is that the United States will now have an official seat at the table while Tehran's emissaries diddle the diplomats with deceit, deception and delay.

Before issuing such a "bold initiative" and "outreach" toward the theocrats ruling in Tehran, Mr. Obama's advisers should have shown their boss the report provided late last month to French President Nicolas Sarkozy from a nonpartisan Parliamentary Commission on Iran's nuclear program. The report details Tehran's success in circumventing United Nations sanctions and concludes that Iranian scientists already have the "know-how" to build a nuclear weapon and that unless action is taken to prevent it, they will possess all necessary technology, equipment and fissile material to deploy nuclear weapons no later than the end of next year and "perhaps sooner."

Note to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta: President Sarkozy has shared this report with other Western intelligence and diplomatic missions - but only the Europeans appear to have read it. They are not waiting for the "New Hand of Progress" to do a grip-and-grin with a radical Iranian ayatollah who believes "Zionism should be wiped from the Earth."

On Thursday, while Mrs. Clinton was doing a "meet and greet" with her new staff at Foggy Bottom, diplomats from the 27 states of the European Union recommended removing an Iranian exile opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) from the EU terror list. The agreement is expected to be ratified by the EU foreign ministers when they meet in Brussels on Monday.

If the EU determination is affirmed, only the United States will continue to describe the PMOI as a "terrorist organization" - a designation it earned in the 1980s when it received support from Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. I know, because I chaired the meeting that made the recommendation. But that was then - this is now.

The PMOI, it should be noted, is the group that first alerted the world to Iran's covert nuclear program. Though most Western intelligence agencies dismissed the charge in 2002 and the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency scoffed at the allegations, the information was spot on. Since then the PMOI has provided covert surveillance and reporting on inbound and outbound Iranian arms shipments - like the weapons-laden vessel bound for Syria interdicted this week in the Red Sea by a U.S. warship on counterpiracy patrol. Unfortunately, only the lawyers were at work on Wednesday, so the Cypriot-flagged ship was allowed to proceed toward the Suez Canal with hopes that "perhaps the Egyptians will find a reason to stop it."

If Mr. Obama is truly serious about getting the attention of the ayatollahs, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the people of Iran, he ought to immediately remove the PMOI from the U.S. "terror-blacklist" - and give the EU kudos for their leadership. Such action would be an extraordinary signal of support for those who want to bring about a change in Tehran. After all, isn't "change" what this administration is all about?

Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel, the author of "American Heroes," and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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