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Iran, Running Free

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.


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