By Dick Lugar
Nearly two years have passed since the world discovered Iran has been cheating under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Despite repeated denials by Tehran, an indisputable mass of evidence since uncovered makes it clear Iran seeks to build a nuclear bomb.
For almost as long, many in the international community have tried to avoid direct confrontation with Iran over this illegal program by offering deals and second chances.
This has not worked. Iran has walked away from its nearly year-old commitments to three European countries to cease and desist from enriching uranium usable in a nuclear weapon.
Iran has announced it will resume enrichment activities and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog, has confirmed Iran is making uranium hexafluoride, a key step in creating bomb-grade uranium.
The international community has dithered long enough. It is time for decisive action. When the IAEA meets this week, it should vote to report Iran's violations to the United Nations Security Council, which has authority to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions and, if necessary, call for the use of force.
The world has been more than patient in the face of Iran's repeated violations of the NPT and lies to the IAEA. It secretly built a large pilot uranium enrichment complex, a far larger, weapons-scale underground enrichment plant, and conducted a clandestine laser isotope separation program, all clearly banned by the treaty. It has also conducted plutonium separation experiments and is reportedly seeking deuterium, both primarily useful in nuclear weapons. As an oil-rich state with a single, unfinished nuclear power plant, there can only be one explanation: Iran is constructing a weapons complex.
Last year, Britain, France and Germany tried to coax the ruling mullahs off their weapons path by offering a trade deal if all enrichment and reprocessing halted. Iran initially agreed but now has reneged, violating every promise to the Europeans.
Failure to act now will bring us one step closer to a nuclear-armed Iran, which already has an advancing ballistic missile program that could threaten Israel as well as Europe. Iran may be less than two years away from a bomb, according to some experts. Even if it doesn't use such weapons, merely possessing them would strengthen Tehran's ability to undermine American policy throughout the Middle East.
Moreover, an Iran with nuclear weapons could trigger a wave of proliferation, pressuring Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Algeria to develop their own nuclear forces, and would hamper efforts to rein in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
Not only does Iran itself have extensive and well-documented ties to terrorists, such a dispersal of weapons technology would increase exponentially the threat of nuclear terrorism from any number of Muslim extremists in the region.
Failure to act now also would deal a blow to the already fragile nonproliferation regime. The safeguards and inspections under the NPT have succeeded, albeit belatedly, in proving Iran's failure to comply with the treaty. Only by prompt enforcement can the treaty stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Despite the flagrant violations, some Europeans are searching for new reasons to avoid a diplomatic showdown. They argue Iran doesn't pose an immediate threat and if the case is taken to the Security Council, Iran may walk out of the NPT.
But keeping Iran in the treaty is not an end in itself the aim is to stop the spread of weapons. A vote by the IAEA to enforce the NPT would be a step toward that goal.
Following a familiar pattern of cheat and retreat, Tehran has at the last minute offered the Europeans another deal. It promised to stop some but not all of its enrichment activities in return for trade concessions, apparently hoping to put off an IAEA vote until the next meeting in November. This is worse than the bargain it struck and broke last year.
The Europeans should reject it out of hand. The international community understandably wants to avoid a military confrontation. It must realize the best way to do so is to face the Iranian violations today. Putting it off does not buy time; it only buys greater risk in the future.
Dick Lugar, Indiana Republican, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.