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“The Worst, Sir, Is War.”

Yesterday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, while calling for more effective sanctions against Iran, said that the world should be getting ready to use force to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “We must prepare for the worst,” he said. “The worst, sir, is war.”

Unfortunately, peaceful efforts to stop Iran’s theocrats have been getting nowhere. In July of last year, the U.N. Security Council demanded that Tehran stop its efforts to enrich uranium; the Council then imposed two sets of sanctions, in December and March. In response to these actions, Tehran has issued a series of increasingly defiant refusals to comply. It has, however, enlisted an invaluable ally. Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, undercut the Security Council sanctions by cutting a deal with Iran. The arrangement, which seeks Iran’s cooperation, does not require the country to stop enrichment and effectively prevents the Security Council from enacting a needed third set of coercive measures.

In the last few days, Tehran has made even more progress. On September 10, Itar-Tass carried a report suggesting that Russia had settled its differences with Iran and had agreed to supply uranium to the Bushehr nuclear plant. On Friday, Beijing issued its latest pronouncement, which essentially endorsed Iran’s delaying tactics.

Time, unfortunately, is growing short. It appears that at some point in the next two years Iranian specialists, unless they are stopped, will gain all the technology and know-how necessary for the building of a nuclear weapon. It would be wonderful if peaceful methods would deter Iran, but that appears extremely unlikely. Russia and China have demonstrated that they will use their Security Council vetoes to prevent the U.N. from imposing meaningful sanctions, and American and EU measures, on their own, will not be sufficient.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said the Bush administration is committed to “diplomatic and economic means” to stop Iran. We all want peaceful solutions, but as each day passes it becomes increasingly clear that Gates’s words have no substantive content; he has been unable to persuade Russia and China to take a clear stand against Iran.

So Kouchner was right to get the West to focus on an unpleasant reality. We are rapidly approaching the point where we have to make a consequential decision—either accept Iran as a nuclear weapons state or take away its arms by force.


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