If there were ever any doubt about Iran's nuclear ambitions and about the threat these pose to the rest of the world, they should be laid to rest.
An overwhelming weight of evidence now suggests that Iran's autocratic rulers, charter members of U.S. President George W. Bush's axis of evil, are rushing to achieve nuclear status. Iran is reprocessing raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride, the raw material for nuclear fuel. Iran has been buying designs for advanced centrifuges, needed for the production of weapons-grade fuel, for nearly a decade. Iran recently tested the Shahab-3 missile, which has a range of 1,300 kilometres. And Iran has resisted efforts by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, to visit key military sites, most notably the Parchin facility near Tehran. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, chances are it's a duck.
No doubt, Tehran has taken to heart the "lesson of the Korean peninsula," as Mr. Bush once described his disastrous North-Korean policy. Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed no nuclear (or other) deterrent and was invaded. Nuclear-armed North Korea has escaped that fate, even though it is easily as repressive and poses a far greater military threat than Iraq ever did.
It's fair to ask whether the United States has contributed to this situation. It invaded Iraq, claiming there was an imminent threat, and found none. This makes it more difficult to make similar claims now about Iran. Likewise, the United States is over-extended militarily, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given this, and the looming presidential election, the mullahs who rule Iran may feel they can proceed with impunity.
If so, they are making a horrible miscalculation. Although the United States may be constrained in its actions, it simply cannot afford for Iran to go nuclear. Neither can Israel. This makes conflict inevitable -- regardless of who wins the White House in November -- unless Iran can be persuaded to change course.
That's why the IAEA, which meets today to consider Iran's nuclear program, should refer the matter to the UN Security Council without delay. The sooner strong diplomatic and economic pressure can be brought to bear on Tehran, the better.