Iran’s nuclear power objective clear with underground plant

The presence of about 100,000 American troops in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater must serve to temper any desire by Israel, the United States’ foremost ally in the Middle East, to unilaterally strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency has now confirmed that the Islamic republic is enriching uranium at an underground bunker to a level that can be upgraded more quickly for use in a nuclear weapon.

To be sure, Israel would be the main target of a nuclear armed Iran, but any military action at this time by the Israelis would put American troops in harm’s way.

“We have common cause here,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday on “Face the Nation,” the morning talk show on CBS. “And the better approach is for us to work together.”

Such cooperation is not only advised between the U.S. and Israel, but between them and the European Union. Indeed, there are countries in the Middle East that would do well to join with the Obama administration in calling for Iran to end its nuclear program, which has triggered economic sanctions by the United Nations. However, even with new sanctions announced by President Obama last week targeting the Iran’s central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad — the U.S. has delayed implementation for at least six months — the Iranian government appears to be doubling down on its production of weapons grade uranium.

Centrifuges at the Fordo site near Iran’s holy city of Qom are churning out uranium enriched to 20 percent, the Associated Press reported, quoting diplomats in Europe. That level is higher than the 3.5 percent being made at Iran’s main enrichment plant and can be turned into fissile warhead material faster and with less work.

“The IAEA can confirm that Iran has started production of uranium enriched up to 20 percent ... in the [Fordo] Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the agency said in a statement.

This is a serious development that requires a thoughtful response from the United States and its allies. Iran’s belligerent reaction to the additional economic sanctions — it has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a sixth of the world’s oil exports passes every year — suggests that the ayatollahs who run the country aren’t easily intimidated.

Revolutionary Guard forces have staged war games in eastern Iran in an apparent display of resolve against U.S. forces just over the border in Afghanistan, which is why any military strike against the nuclear facilities is not advised.

U.S. Marine

This week’s conviction and death sentence of a former U.S. Marine by a court in Tehran have heightened tensions. The Iranians contend that Amir Mirzaei Hekmatic worked for the CIA and was on an intelligence mission. Hekmati is a dual U.S.-Iranian national. His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Mich., has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

It is clear the Iranians won’t back down in the face of threats from the United States and others, which is why a way must be found to bring them to the table.

The use of force by Israel or another country will result in retaliation against American forces in the region.

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