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Iran's Nuke Program Hums While World Stews

By Steve Huntley, Chicago Sun-Times - July 10, 2009

The G-8 nations are turning up the heat on Iran. While two weeks ago the Group of 8 industrial nations said they were "concerned" about Tehran's nuclear program, they declared Wednesday at their summit in Italy that now they are "seriously concerned" about Iran's atomic weapon ambitions.

Not "seriously concerned" enough to lay down tough sanctions. But "seriously concerned" enough to agree "to take stock of the situation" in Iran at a United Nations meeting in September.

OK, I'm too sarcastic. Diplomacy by its nature moves slowly and cautiously. No doubt the G-8 leaders want to halt Iran's weapons drive. That program, say several sources, now alarms even Russia, but, by all accounts, Moscow remains cool to tough measures against Tehran.

However sarcastic I may sound, think how the G-8 pronouncement plays in Tehran. It can only encourage the theocratic and military bosses to think they can string out any negotiations long enough to acquire a nuclear warhead for the increasingly longer range missiles they're testing.

A regime that doesn't hesitate to shoot its citizens protesting for democratic reforms will be no less ruthless as it pursues its political ambitions. Remember, the cause pushed by supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and their cohorts is not just Iran, but the "Islamic revolution."

Spreading the Islamic revolution and undermining the West and its liberal values underlie Tehran's opening of offices in two dozen African nations and doubling to eight the number of its embassies in Latin America. Gen. Douglas Fraser, the new chief of the U.S. Southern Command, says he worries about "the connection Iran has with extremist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and the potential risk that that could bring" to Latin America.

Ahmadinejad has gone out of his way to curry warm relations with U.S.-bashing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Last December, Turkey intercepted an Iranian shipment to Venezuela of "tractor parts" that turned out to be materials for making explosives. Chavez now mouths anti-Israel venom, encouraging what the State Department calls "a rise in anti-Semitic vandalism, caricatures, intimidations, and physical attacks on Jewish institutions."

Meanwhile, Iran's 7,000 centrifuges are spinning. Already Tehran has more than 1,300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that atomic inspectors know of and is rapidly closing in on the 1,500-1,700 kilograms needed to produce a much smaller amount of weapons-grade uranium. Once that threshold is reached, a bomb can follow fairly quickly.

Iran's brutal repression has, to say the least, complicated President Obama's intention to engage Tehran. Obama previously said he wanted an Iranian response to his outreach by year's end, but it's not clear if the September U.N. meeting sets a new timeline.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the "window is closing" to stop Iran and restated that the military option is still on the table. But a military strike would seem out of character for Obama. A more realistic option would be one by Israel, which previously destroyed Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs. But the Washington Times reports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so worried Obama would reject a military strike that he has not formally asked for U.S. aid or permission for one.

Vice President Joe Biden seemed to suggest a tougher stand last weekend when he said Israel has a "sovereign right" to defend itself against an existential threat. Why say that if not intending to signal Washington would back an attack? But Obama quickly declared he wasn't giving a "green light" to Israel. Too bad. If he had said Biden was only expressing Israel's right of self-defense and left it there while pushing diplomacy, Tehran might have seen Obama as talking softly while outsourcing the big stick to Israel. Then the mullahs would have been the ones "seriously concerned."

Comment at suntimes.com.

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