The mullahs who run Iran celebrated the 31st anniversary of their revolution Feb. 11th by "punching" the West with claims their regime has produced 20 percent enriched uranium. While 90 percent enriched uranium is considered weapons grade, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that too is on the way and declared that Iran was a "nuclear state."
The Senate and the House of Representatives have now passed new sanctions legislation aimed towards trying to avert Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but have not worked out their differences to send the bill to the President.
The President should not wait for Congress. He should act to immediately impose sanctions on Iran using his existing authority and mount a relentless campaign to recruit other nations to follow suit.
While the President said he would make such an effort in a matter of weeks, those are weeks we cannot spare if we are serious about trying to prevent Tehran from building nuclear weapons. We must be vigilant and keep Iran at the forefront of our attention.
The Obama Administration's attempts over the past year to negotiate with Tehran have failed. While the Administration was preoccupied with issues such as global warming and health care, we must not allow other issues to obscure our focus on Iran as one of the most dangerous foreign policy problems we face.
In unclassified testimony this month before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, of which I am a senior member, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair acknowledged that the Iranian regime continues to "flout UN Security Council restrictions on its nuclear program" and that "there is a real risk that its nuclear program will prompt other countries in the Middle East to pursue nuclear weapons."
Blair testified in his Annual Threat Assessment that Iran "has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons." Further, Blair said our intelligence assessment is that Iran has the means to deliver such weapons.
"Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East," Blair told the committee, "and it continues to expand the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces--many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload."
Some factors suggest Iran may be particularly vulnerable to sanctions now. Iran's economy is increasingly shaky, there are divisions even within the regime, and there is a wide-based popular opposition movement. Iranian inflation is believed to be as high as 20 percent and unemployment is high, especially among the young, who are the majority of the population.
Although it is oil-rich, Iran is refinery poor and relies on foreign imports to supply 40 percent of its fuel needs. That makes Iran particularly vulnerable to international sanctions to block fuel imports, a central focus of the sanctions bill I cosponsored that passed the House and Senate. Sanctions could also be aimed at isolating Iran's central bank and its ability to move funds through the international banking system. No option should be taken off the table.
The Iranian regime has used every delay in imposing tougher sanctions so far to its advantage and hopes to keep a divided and indecisive world at bay while it makes its nuclear arsenal a fait accompli. Strong American leadership is needed if reluctant nations, such as China and Russia, will turn away from short-term advantage and realize a nuclear-armed Iran is not in their interests either.
January 27 marked the 65th anniversary of the Auschwitz death camp liberation. It is tragically ironic that the House passed a resolution I cosponsored commemorating that liberation just as Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad was renewing his oft-repeated call for a second Holocaust to wipe Israel from the face of the map.
The United States must not stand by impotently while Ahmadinejad acquires the means to carry out his horrific threat. We must impose sanctions against Tehran now and do everything we can to stop him and his regime from making their evil wish a reality.
-- Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly represents Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Congress and is a senior member of both the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees. He is the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Europe.