As world leaders convene in Washington today and Tuesday to discuss nuclear arms security, they know that their own intelligence agencies are collecting mounting evidence that Iran will build atomic weapons—and soon.
The host, President Obama, and his national security team plan to capitalize on the unique gathering to push for new sanctions on Tehran—in the face of conservative criticism that the administration has given up on stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
The latest evidence: A recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ watchdog to combat nuclear proliferation, stated Iran’s nuclear work is increasingly being carried out by agencies linked to the military.
The work includes enriching uranium that could ultimately be converted to fuel nuclear bombs, and reshaping ballistic-missile cones so they can hold the warhead.
"The information available to the agency in connection with these outstanding issues is extensive and has been collected from a variety of sources over time," the IAEA said. "It is also broadly consistent and credible in terms of the technical detail, the time frame in which the activities were conducted and the people and organizations involved."
"Altogether, this raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. These alleged activities consist of a number of projects and sub-projects, covering nuclear and missile-related aspects, run by military-related organizations."
The CIA also weighed in with a new report to Congress on nuclear proliferation.
"Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so," said the report.
The U.N. has ordered Iran to stop uranium enrichment. The CIA explained how the hard-line Islamic regime responded: "In 2009, Iran continued to make progress enriching uranium at the underground cascade halls at Natanz with first-generation centrifuges, and in testing and operating advanced centrifuges at the pilot plant there."
Iran more than tripled its production of low-enriched uranium, from 555 kilograms in 2008 to 1,800 kilograms last year—all in violation of U.N. resolutions.
Obama promised direct talks with a regime that has proposed to destroy Israel and has ballistic missiles that can reach Jerusalem. After more than a year, there have been no direct talks. The President has made no progress in slowing down Tehran’s march toward nuclear weapons. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel and the U.S.
"Obama is not serious about Iran," said Michael Ledeen, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of three books on Iran. "If he were serious, he would have done something by now. He’s set a million deadlines. And every time the deadline passed, he’s moved it up. The Obama policy on Iran is to talk about Iran."
Ledeen added, "On a scale of zero to 100—if we exclude something that everybody presumes is going on, namely whatever clandestine sabotage is happening—I guess he gets a zero because he hasn’t done anything."
"Support the revolution and bring down the regime," is how Ledeen describes his recommended approach toward Iran. Sanctions, he said, only get you so far.
"Right now our failure to do anything has convinced a lot of Iranians that we actually support this regime," Ledeen said. "I don’t think that sanctions by themselves will bring down the regime nor cause the regime to change its policy. But I think that sanctions are extremely useful and important. The petroleum sanctions are having an effect. Refineries all over the world are now refusing to refine Iranian oil for Iran."
Ledeen is not alone. A number of influential conservatives say Obama has decided to let Iran arm itself with nukes and is just going through the sanction motions.
"The U.S. can at this point do more unilaterally by imposing and enforcing sanctions on companies that do business in Iran’s energy industry," The Wall Street Journal said last week. "But so far the administration has shown considerably less enthusiasm for these measures than has even a Democratic Congress."
The two-day summit beginning today will give Obama a new opportunity to win support for a list of unspecified sanctions.
Russian and China, who are attending, have said they are open to some added economic restrictions on Iran, but not to the degree Washington wants. In other words, to get their support the White House is willing to water-down economic penalties on Iran, putting in doubt whether they will ever be effective.
Iran now has a new incentive to buck Washington.
The Obama Administration last week released its new strategy for the use of nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Posture Review explicitly said it will not use such weapons on countries that attack the U.S. with chemical or biological weapons if they adhere to a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
But that exempts the Iran, since it is breaking the treaty. Iran can now argue it needs nukes as a deterrent since it remains a possible U.S. target.
Obama Friday did not express confidence he can stop Iran.
"Do we have a guarantee as to the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior? Of course we don’t," Obama told ABC. "All of us are going to be sitting and crafting, shaping a sanctions regime that we think is actually going to be effective in changing Iranian behavior."
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