Time to Pressure Iran

With so much attention focused on Iraq and North Korea lately, it's not surprising that we've been hearing little about the other member of the Axis of Evil. The irony is that, in many ways, Iran is worse than the other two.

If there ever was a poster child for the Axis of Evil, it's Iran. It combines repressive Islamic fundamentalism with weapons of mass destruction and robust support for some of the world's most insidious terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. This year, the State Department has again named Iran "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" in the world.

Even more alarming, the Bush administration believes Tehran could possess nuclear weapons within five years. Nearly 25 years after Iranians seized the American embassy, it's time to start pressuring Iran to change its course.

Many consider Iran's religious leaders the founding fathers of modern Islamic terrorism. According to the State Department, they have been arming Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestine Islamic Jihad for years, as well as training them and giving them sanctuary. There are reportedly nine other terrorist groups residing in Tehran. Small wonder this theocratic regime has done little to help in the global war on terrorism.

Though these groups focus a good deal of their evil energy on Israel, they've attacked American interests as well. In 1983, Hezbollah bombed the Marine Barracks in Lebanon, killing 241 American servicemen. They also struck the American Embassy in Beirut that year, killing 60. In 1985, Hezbollah hijacked TWA flight 847, executing an American sailor onboard.

During the embassy crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, eight U.S. servicemen were killed trying the rescue their countrymen in the failed "Desert One" operation. Tehran also is suspected in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which killed 19 American servicemen.

Today, the Iranian regime is giving safe haven to members of al Qaeda and specifically Osama Bin Laden's son. It is estimated that the Iranian regime is responsible for at least 1,000 terrorism-related deaths worldwide since 1979. To the mullahs, Iran's religious leaders, America is Public Enemy #1.

Yes, Iran has signed the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). But that hasn't stopped it from pursuing the very weapons these agreements ban. Tehran has biological and chemical agents and used them against the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980's. And, U.S. officials report, Tehran has begun accelerating its nuclear weapons program. Its ballistic missile arsenal is the largest in the Middle East, and missiles with intercontinental range are on the drawing board.

In short, the linkage between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (and the means to deliver them) is irrefutable in Iran.<< />

There is a glimmer of hope. Almost two-thirds of Iran's 65 million people are under 25 years of age. These young people want reform and will protest for it. They want real democracy and ties with the United States. Iran's president and parliament are democratically elected but with one tiny proviso -- the Mullahs have the final say in all matters of governance.

True, there are fissures in the regime's fundamentalist facade. But can we afford to wait for the regime to reform itself? Probably not.

We should pressure the regime, just like we're doing with North Korea. The U.N. Security Council should rule that Iran is violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and consider sanctions. Washington should urge nations that work with Iran (especially those in Europe) to insist that Iran prove it has halted its support for terror and has destroyed banned weapons. We also should support Iranian opposition and democratic dissident groups who can serve as agents of change from inside and outside Iran.

Iran may be the most vexing and dangerous challenge in the Axis of Evil. Afghanistan has been rescued. Syria has been admonished. Iraq has been liberated. It's time to pressure Iran to renounce its support for terror and destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

Peter Brookes, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, is a senior fellow for national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

Respond to the Writer