- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The U.S. intelligence community finally has discovered what the rest of the world already knew - Iran is working on nuclear weapons. The CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center, or WINPAC, has reported to Congress that, “Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.”

This may seem like a breakthrough, but the intelligence community is clinging to language that separates Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities from its allegedly obscure warlike intentions. This is an increasingly untenable model as Tehran nears full nuclear power status . A U.S. official involved in countering weapons proliferation told The Washington Times’ Bill Gertz: “There are powerful incentives for them to close the door completely, but they are either purposefully ignoring them or are tone-deaf. You almost want to shout, ‘Tune in, Tehran.’ ” But those frustrated by U.S. ineptitude really want to shout “Tune in, Washington.” If Tehran is pushing ahead despite the powerful incentives not to, it’s clear evidence of Iran’s intention to build weapons.

Iran is plainly following the North Korean model. For years, the United States pledged that North Korea would not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. Pyongyang persevered and tested a weapon. Rather than punishing North Korea, the United States simply changed its line to demanding Pyongyang get rid of its nuclear weapons, thus stripping American threats of any credibility. Now Iran is being told it will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, but the mullahs know talk is cheap in Washington.

The WINPAC report coincides with the United States joining France in taking a harder line against Iran. On Tuesday, President Obama, in a joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, expressed his desire for tough new sanctions to be levied against Iran “within weeks.” This new urgency follows a year of fruitless efforts to coax a diplomatic opening from the Islamic regime in Tehran, which met with violent crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrators and an intensified effort to achieve nuclear capability.

It also came to light this week that Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist missing since June, defected to the United States and has been sharing his knowledge of the inner workings of Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran has long accused America of having kidnapped Mr. Amiri, but public confirmation of his cooperation with the intelligence community is an overt signal to Tehran that we know more than they thought we knew.

The new hard line is also an important signal to Israel, the other key player in the equation. The absence of significant motion on the part of the United States was pushing Israel towards taking unilateral action to deal with what would be an existential threat from the Islamic regime.

It’s about time the United States moved toward a more realistic Iran policy, though the intelligence community should drop the fiction that Tehran doesn’t intend to pursue nuclear weapons, particularly as evidence mounts that they are doing exactly that. This failure to acknowledge the obvious may be why every initial nuclear test by an adversary power since 1949 has come as a surprise. As things currently stand, Iran’s first test will surprise us as well.

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