Drawing the line on Iran

Mr. Conservative

The end-game in the Iranian nuclear crisis is rushing forward.

The differences between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran, principally questions of timing and tactics, have been well publicized. But last week Mr. Obama cleared the air by stating more explicitly than ever that the two nations share the objective of ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons capability and that he means what he says.

Specifically, President Obama told an interviewer that he was willing to use a “military component” against Iran as a last resort if talks and persuasion don’t work. “I don’t bluff,” he added. This is tough talk for a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize leading a war-weary nation. He followed that up with a speech to a major pro-Israeli lobbying group in Washington in which he ruled out a policy of “containment,” the defensive posture adopted with the Soviet Union after it became a nuclear power.

That narrows the options to one: prevention. Iran’s mullahs cannot fail to understand what this means. The upcoming round of talks with Western nations represents Iran’s last chance to show that it is a rational nation-state whose leaders realize they’ve exhausted the patience of law-abiding countries. They can no longer violate the rules of nuclear non-proliferation and expect to get away with it.

For years, the ayatollahs have engaged in a dangerous game, using subterfuge, double-talk and bluster to build a secret nuclear program while reassuring suspicious critics that their intentions were peaceful.

Why should anyone believe them? The regime has eagerly nurtured terrorist movements in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. It has refused to cooperate with international arms inspectors. Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly taunts and disparages Western leaders and threatens harm to Iran’s critics.

Critics of U.S. policy believe too much time has been lost in idle diplomacy. But rushing to war is always a mistake. A steady U.S. naval buildup around the Persian Gulf, coupled with sanctions that make it harder for Iran to refine its oil and stay connected to the world financial system, has put pressure on the regime. This approach has persuaded other nations to form an effective, united front against Iran.

The clearest example lies in France’s change of attitude. The country famously refused to join in the invasion of Iraq. This time French President Nicolas Sarkozy is leading the charge. He was the first among leaders of the six powers negotiating with Iran to push for tighter sanctions on Iranian oil and finance. His foreign minister says Iran continues to be “two-faced” and insincere. Translation: We won’t be fooled again.

Iran cannot say it has not been warned. Negotiators should not settle for yet another invitation to have international inspectors visit Iran without a guarantee of satisfaction. The last mission, in February, failed after Iran’s leaders blithely refused to address the key concerns of inspectors.

Israel has been right to insist that the international community face up to its duty to confront Iran. Armed with nuclear weapons, a rogue nation that actively supports terrorism represents a menace to all, not just to Israel.

Years ago, Israel did the world a favor by taking out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facility, and later Syria’s. Iran is everyone’s responsibility. The end game is near and the clock is ticking.

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