A critical mess over Iran

Obama and McCain say Iran must not get the bomb. They should read a new UN report.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama say Iran must not be allowed to make an atomic bomb. Whomever wins in November may need to act on this pledge early in his presidency. A new UN report cites "serious" concerns about "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear programs.

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency is extraordinarily tough. The IAEA isn't known to exaggerate and even openly opposes the Bush administration's tough and sometimes threatening talk against Iran. Up to now, the United Nations agency has largely given Iran the benefit of the doubt about its claim that this petroleum-rich country simply seeks a new energy source.

But evidence of Iran's intent is reaching critical mass, compounded by its secrecy in dealing with the IAEA, not to mention direct threats against Israel and pretensions to dominate the Middle East in the name of a flagging Shiite revolution.

For the US presidential campaign, the issue of a nuclearized Iran should be as hot as withdrawal from Iraq.

The Islamic nation's nuclear intent has become clearer as it adds more powerful centrifuges to enrich uranium – in defiance of three resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. Many experts say it could make enough fissile material for a bomb by late 2009.

The IAEA found "substantial parts of the centrifuge components were manufactured in the workshops of the Defense Industries Organization." It also describes evidence of detonators, testing systems, and missile configuration that can only go with a nuclear weapon. So much for last year's estimate by US spy agencies that Iran suspended its weapons program in 2003.

If all that isn't enough to persuade Russia and China to help ratchet up UN sanctions on Iran, then there's more. A report last week by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies found that Iran's nuclear threat has already helped create a dangerous ricochet with a surge among Iran's rivals in the region to develop a nuclear-energy capacity.

As of 2007, 13 Middle Eastern nations were on board the atomic train. The report stated: "What they want is the human and technical infrastructure associated with nuclear-energy programs in order to provide a counterbalance to Iran, both laying the ground for a possible future security hedge, and bestowing national prestige in the context of historic rivalries."

The authors of this report note that Tehran has never asked for a US guarantee not to attack Iran. Iran's nuclear program is probably driven largely by its revolutionary and historic compulsion for influence over the region's Muslims. Yet an American security offer is often suggested by those in the US who believe Iran can be talked down from developing a bomb.

In 2006, the West offered Iran a generous and face-saving way to obtain nuclear energy if it ended its weaponization drive. Iran's rejection of that offer has only helped forge world opinion against it, bringing on tougher sanctions and widening splits between its hard-line and moderate conservatives.

The US presidential candidates should be demanding that the UN tighten the sanctions now. That might save the next president from taking tougher action later.

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