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Iran has been pursuing a determined clandestine path to obtain nuclear weapons. The National Council of Resistance of Iran just announced that Iran allocated $2.5 billion last year to obtain three nuclear warheads.

The NCRI, functions as the political arm of the People’s Mujahedeen, itself a questionable group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Still, the NCRI has had a history over the past few years of disclosing important elements of Iran’s clandestine nuclear program.

Then, too, we have reports that A.Q. Kahn, the discredited father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, sold the mullahs the key final secrets to produce the weapons-ready metallized form of highly enriched uranium needed in a simple gun-type device, as well as the details for the mirrors and internal mechanisms needed to create the weapon’s initial detonation.

Last week, the Islamic Republic of Iran announced the results of a successful test of a new, advanced missile, the Shahab-3, which flew 1,700 kilometers, fast and accurately.

The mullahs are buying time, negotiating with the Europeans. Is history repeating itself? The Japanese ambassadors in Washington, D.C., were negotiating with Secretary of State Cordell Hull on Dec. 6, 1941, even as the Japanese fleet was reading to launch planes against Pearl Harbor.

Now we hear the Europeans are considering conceding to the Iranian argument that under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the mullahs have the right to enrich uranium, as long as they don’t make bombs.

Recent history provides the relevant example here. In 1994, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright entered into an “Agreed Framework” deal with North Korea under which the Clinton administration agreed to provide enough nuclear fuel to North Korea to build two power plants, with the stipulation that North Korea would halt its plutonium weapons program. Clinton even threw in a large quantity of economic aid as an incentive to keep North Korea on the straight and narrow.

What happened? Kim Jong Il built nuclear weapons and defied the world to do anything about it.

Now it’s the mullahs chance to play the world for fools. President Bush has decided to allow the Europeans time to see if they can bring the mullahs into a negotiated settlement. Iran remains defiant, refusing to destroy the centrifuge farms they have built to enrich uranium to weapons grade, or the heavy-water plant they have constructed to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Sure, the Europeans have agreed to bring the case to the U.N. Security Council if they cannot produce an agreement. But how long will that take?

The administration – before President Bush and Secretary of State Rice went to Europe – had been prepared to take strong action against the mullahs right now, in March 2005. The decision to work with the Europeans, and void another pre-emptive war, has pushed back the timetable for decisive action.

But if the process stalls much beyond June 17, the mullahs may have won the gambit. If the mullahs can pull off the scheduled presidential election on June 17 without civil disobedience in the streets, the only other shoe that would have to drop is for them to announce that they do have the bomb. Then what is the world to do?

We cannot afford to discover that the mullahs have the bomb by waking up one morning to see a mushroom cloud over New York City or Tel Aviv. An atomic 9-11 is not the type of nightmare awakening the world can bear to experience. Finding out there were terrorists in our midst by seeing the second plane fly into the World Trade Center towers was bad enough.

The time when Iran will have a bomb is imminent … no matter how many times they swear their intentions are entirely peaceful.

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