Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No wonder presidents seem to age so quickly - dealing with the country’s toughest problems every day takes its toll. Many of those problems seem almost insolvable.

Look no further than Iran.

Since its Islamic revolution in 1979, that country has bedeviled American presidents and presented us with mostly bad choices. And it keeps raising the ante. Iranian officials recently admitted something U.S. intelligence agencies already had told President Obama: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and company are building a hidden uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom.

The Iranians showed no contrition. Instead, they acted belligerently, testing missiles that could - someday - be used to attack Western cities.

There are no easy answers. During the Bush administration, the U.S. tried to work with allies to defuse the Iranian threat. Yet years of talks led by Germany, France and Britain failed to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

We’ve also tried dealing with the problem at the United Nations. But Russia and China are close allies and active trade partners with Iran. They have used their Security Council veto power to dilute and delay attempts to impose sanctions.

Iran’s approach is to stall. It aims to tie up the U.S. and others in endless negotiations while its weapons and missile programs progress. If it can avoid sanctions long enough, it can announce itself to be a nuclear power. That’s an alarming prospect because Iran is the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism. It would cause a dangerous shift in the planet’s balance of power. We simply can’t allow Tehran to obtain the ultimate terrorist weapon.

The United States and our allies can make progress if we stick together and act quickly. In June, a Heritage Foundation special report laid out some steps we’ll need to take to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, and if that fails, to mitigate the threat.

First, mobilize an international coalition to contain and deter a nuclear Iran. We’ve got the start of such a coalition, with Britain, France and Germany already onboard. But we can’t give China or Russia veto power. They need to recognize the danger of a nuclear Iran and join us in blocking it, or they need to stand down and allow the allies to act.

We also must levy much tougher sanctions on Iran. Mr. Obama should make it clear the U.S. will push for international bans on foreign investment, loans, and exports of arms and gasoline to Iran. This would starve the Iranian regime of its funding and deprive its people of the cheap fuel on which they’ve come to rely. If Iran continues to defy the international consensus, it must pay a stiff price.

The U.S. also must prepare for military action as a last resort. The Pentagon should update its plans for attacking suspected weapons sites in Iran. We should take every precaution to avoid injuring innocent civilians. But we also have to ensure that any strikes decisively set back Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

Furthermore, to make sure Iran doesn’t lash out with the missiles and weapons it already has, the U.S. should make it clear that an Iranian attack, whether on our homeland or on an ally, would be met with overwhelming force. If hit, we’ll hit back much harder and more destructively and block Iran’s oil exports. Moreover, we urgently should be building up our missile defenses rather than cutting back on them as the Obama administration is doing.

Finally, our leaders need to explain that our complaint isn’t with the Iranian people; it’s with their leadership.

In recent months, millions of brave Iranians have marched to protest their government, which seems to have stolen its most recent election. The United States wants to see all Iranians living safely in freedom, as members of the international community. The nuclear weapons their leaders seek are as much a threat to peaceable Iranians as they are to us.

The Iran problem won’t dissipate overnight. But we can protect ourselves and our allies if we act quickly and work together. The United States should be ready to take “yes” for an answer when Iran is ready to halt its support for terrorism and its efforts to obtain the world’s most terrifying weapons.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

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