Ticking Tehran bomb

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The Wall Street Journal – Review & Outlook: Once Iran gets its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz up and running, it will likely be months away from having a nuclear weapon. So said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei this week in an interview with The Independent newspaper of London. The Wall Street Journal

Review & Outlook

Once Iran gets its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz up and running, it will likely be months away from having a nuclear weapon. So said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei this week in an interview with The Independent newspaper of London.

We were surprised enough by the quote from the hyper-careful Mr. ElBaradei that we called his spokeswoman Melissa Fleming to confirm. While she cautioned that it would probably take two years before Natanz was fully operational, she said the IAEA assumed that any country that could produce highly enriched uranium would have mastered the other necessary technology. In other words, she said, an Iran that enriches uranium will be “a virtual nuclear weapons state.”

This is a hugely significant conclusion, given that Iran is rebuffing the idea of any limits on its self-proclaimed “right” to enrich uranium and some in the U.S. are trying to play down the seriousness of the Iranian threat. Earlier this year, much was made of a Washington Post report of a leaked conclusion of a still-classified U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that Iran was “a decade away” from the bomb. Amid the recriminations over faulty intelligence about Iraqi WMD, this was widely spun as an invitation to relax about Iran.

Which would now seem to be wishful thinking. The IAEA’s estimate is potentially within the tenure of a Bush Administration that has staked its legacy on preventing WMD proliferation. The White House hasn’t been giving this issue the attention it deserves, outsourcing policy to the Europeans and acquiescing to a deal that would have Russia oversee Iran’s enrichment program. The mullahs just rejected the latter idea. Let’s hope Mr. ElBaradei’s remarks serve as a wake-up call.

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