- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Just days before leaving for New York to address the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again reminded the world why an Iranian atomic bomb would be so dangerous. On Thursday he flatly ruled out the concept that Israel would be at peace with its Arab neighbors if it reached agreement on a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency - which had previously bent over backward to give Tehran the benefit of the doubt - last week produced documents and photographs showing that Iran may have tried to reconfigure its Shahab-3 missile to carry a nuclear weapon. The IAEA said that Iranian stonewalling has brought agency efforts to monitor its nuclear program to a standstill. Tehran has refused to permit IAEA inspectors to interview engineers involved in the ostensibly peaceful work and visit their “civilian” workshops. The Shahab-3 was on display yesterday at a military parade in Tehran. Iran says the missile has a range of 1,200 miles, sufficient to reach Eastern Europe, Israel, part of Egypt and U.S. military forces based in Turkey and Iraq if fired from Iranian territory.

In essence, the United States has few choices when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons: One is military action (possibly in conjunction with Israel.) But with U.S. military forces already overstretched, going to war with Iran is just about the last thing Washington wants. If war is not an option, that basically leaves diplomacy and sanctions.

Right now, international sanctions as put forward by the United Nations have become something of a joke. On Friday, senior envoys from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China met at the State Department to discuss yet another U.N. resolution demanding that Iran change its behavior. But no agreement was reached, and Moscow and Beijing are expected to continue working to weaken any measure that comes before the Security Council.

The situation is not appreciably better on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans are busy furiously debating “sense of Congress” resolutions on Iran which the administration and foreign governments are free to ignore. Unfortunately, the sanctions that could actually damage Iran’s ability to fund terrorism and weapons programs, including the Iran Sanctions Act, are probably dead for this year. The act, which passed the House overwhelmingly last year, would force the State Department to impose sanctions on firms that invest in Iranian oil and gas projects. But a companion measure proposed by Sen. Gordon Smith, Oregon Republican, remains stalled in the Senate. If members of Congress wonder why the Iranian government behaves the way it does, they should start by looking in the mirror.

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