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Is Iran a Danger to U.S. Interests?

On November 22, Republican candidates will gather together in Washington, D.C., for a presidential debate presented by The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute on CNN. The subject: foreign policy and national security. Chief among the foreign policy issues that the President of the United States must address is the matter of an increasingly dangerous, hostile, and emboldened Iran.

Yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report confirming that Iran has made substantial progress in its nuclear weapons program. The IAEA says it “has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme” and that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Though not surprising, the news is nonetheless alarming. A nuclear Iran poses a significant threat to the United States and its allies in the region, yet to date the Obama Administration’s response has fallen far short. Heritage’s James Phillips explains, ”The new IAEA report also should inject a greater sense of urgency into the Obama Administration over Iran’s accelerating nuclear efforts.” He also details the White House’s inadequate posture to date:

The Administration has appeared complacent in recent months, promoting the narrative that the stuxnet virus unleashed on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure has dealt Iran’s nuclear program a devastating setback. But as Stephen Rademaker and Blaise Misztal noted in a persuasive op-ed [yesterday], Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts were only temporarily slowed and now continue to grow at an alarming rate.

Given the Obama Administration’s lethargic response to Iran’s continued nuclear efforts, it is no wonder that the Israeli government reportedly is mulling a preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The Obama Administration needs to step up its efforts to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear weapons efforts, or Israel soon could be tempted to take military action to address a growing existential threat.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, though, is not its only affront to the international community. Its list of offenses is as long as it is alarming.

The Iranian government suppresses civil rights and freedom of speech, and it is pursuing a plan for a heavily censored, all-Iranian Internet that would block the country from the rest of the world. The government has pursued a course of religious persecution, too. Iranian Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was handed a death sentence in 2009 after questioning the Muslim teachings that his children were receiving at school. And the regime turned hikers into hostages when it sentenced two innocent American hikers to eight years in jail for allegedly straying across the Iran-Iraq border two years ago.

But the Iranian regime is not content to keep its belligerence contained inside its borders. In October, the United States foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. The conspirators also planned bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in our nation’s capital. Fortunately, these flagrant acts of war and international terrorism were disrupted, but the intent remains. Together with its nuclear ambitions, Iran’s belligerent posture toward the United States cannot be ignored. In August, The Heritage Foundation Counterterrorism Task Force criticized the Administration for failing to address the threat:

The President’s strategy pays insufficient attention to state-sponsored terrorism, which will increasingly be a major force to be reckoned with. Iran is one of the most prominent and aggressive state sponsors of terror and its proteges–both Hamas and Hezbollah–represent potentially grave threats. In addition, transnational criminal cartels in Mexico are increasingly taking on the character of terrorist networks.

Following the news of Iran’s plot against the Saudi ambassador, Heritage’s James Carafano wrote that the Obama Administration should take strong measures to respond to Iran’s actions, including conducting a proportional military response against suitable, feasible, and acceptable targets (similar to military operations conducted against al Qaeda in Pakistan). It should impose and enforce the strongest sanctions, target public diplomacy to expose the regime’s human rights abuses, reduce Iran’s meddling in Iraq, and rescind and rewrite its counterterrorism strategy. There are actions, too, that the United States can take to bring about liberty in Iran, as detailed in this Heritage report.

Throughout his Administration, President Obama has downplayed Iran’s progress on the ballistic missile and nuclear fronts, and he has maintained that international sanctions have slowed the momentum of Iran’s military buildup. Now we have even more evidence to the contrary. The Iranian threat is growing–both inside and outside its borders. And it’s an issue the Republican presidential candidates should not ignore.

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