- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2011

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returns Thursday for his annual New York gala performance. The Iranian president is renowned for anti-Western antics at the opening session of the United Nations, but this time will be different. Concrete advances in Tehran’s nuclear program over the past year move the threat level from theoretical to immediate. Absent tangible evidence of the will to check an overt menace within its midst, the world body purportedly devoted to peace faces its own existential danger: irrelevance.

In an incongruent prelude to the annual feel-good confab this week, the chief of the U.N. nuclear agency admitted last week that he is “increasingly concerned” that Iran is working on a nuclear warhead. In a report issued Sept. 12, Yukiya Amano said member states were providing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with “extensive and comprehensive” information about a military application for the mullahs’ atomic program. Details of the incriminating evidence are likely to be published in November.

If other countries are beginning to funnel intelligence on Tehran’s nuclear designs to the U.N., international bemusement with the Islamic theocracy has hardened into genuine fear that a nuclear-armed Iran could pose extreme danger to nations beyond its stated enemies of Israel and the United States.

Since the U.N.’s opening session on Turtle Bay a year ago, the Islamic republic has progressed from a nuclear wannabe to become a member of the nuclear club. Ignoring several rounds of U.N.-imposed economic sanctions, the regime hit the start button on its Bushehr nuclear power plant in May, and the facility began feeding electricity into the national grid on Sept. 3.

More ominously, Tehran has begun installing uranium-enrichment centrifuges in a hardened underground bunker beneath a military installation near the holy city of Qom, according to the IAEA. Such actions, taken in concert with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats against the nearby Jewish state, belies his claims that Iran’s nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only. In word and deed, all signals emanating from the Islamic republic point to a violent application for its newly achieved nuclear capability.

It’s no coincidence that the fate of two American hikers jailed in Tehran hangs in the balance as the U.N. General Assembly gathers. Observers recognize a classic good-cop-bad-cop routine playing out as Iran’s president claims the hikers will be freed any day as a humanitarian gesture but mullah-directed judges have failed so far to sign off on their release. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, have languished in prison since allegedly straying across Iran’s border while hiking in the mountains of Kurdish Iraq in July 2009. Last month, they were convicted of illegal entry and espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. Until the pair are safely on a homeward-bound plane, American diplomats are obliged to hold their tongues on the critical issue of Tehran’s nuclear threat.

Iran’s history of dissembling about the true nature of its nuclear designs has made a mockery of the United Nations’ founding charter “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.” Unless the world body suddenly remembers its mission and acquires the fortitude to halt Tehran’s aggression, the likelihood mounts for a Mideast conflagration.

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