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Originally published Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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A nuclear Iran would put us over a barrel

A nuclear Iran could shift the balance of power in a crucial part of the world against democratic values and American interests, writes Wendy Rosen.

Special to The Times

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IN our politically polarized time, one statement President Obama made in his State of the Union address should get everyone's approval: "America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."

An exhaustive report by the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency left no doubt that Iran is far along in its drive to acquire a nuclear-weapons capacity. Iranian nuclear bombs and the long-range ballistic missiles to deliver them endanger not only its immediate neighbors — Saudi Arabia and the other predominantly Sunni Arab states that it has threatened, and the state of Israel that President Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe off the map — but also Europe.

Simply, a nuclear Iran could shift the balance of power in a crucial part of the world against democratic values and American interests.

Iran's record as an international outlaw hardly inspires confidence in its intentions. The nuclear program itself is in defiance of the U.N. Security Council. Iran supports the Syrian government's brutal crackdown on its citizens and arms Hezbollah, which has created a state within a state in Lebanon. The regime rigged Iran's national elections in 2009 to defy the will of the people, and it continues to imprison, torture and execute people — including minors — without due process.

It almost succeeded in assassinating the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in a crowded Washington restaurant, and allowed a howling mob to ransack the British embassy in Tehran. And, thumbing its nose at the world, its defense minister is wanted by Interpol for helping mastermind terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires that killed 115 and injured hundreds.

An Iran with nuclear weapons is a frightening prospect. What can be done to head off an Iranian nuclear weapon? The usual diplomatic route of negotiations has achieved nothing except buy time for Iran to proceed with its plans.

"I will take no options off the table," President Obama declared in his State of the Union address. Tehran must understand that the U.S. is ready to use force if necessary, whether to break any potential blockade of the Strait of Hormuz — through which 35 percent of the world's tanker-shipped oil passes — or to deal directly with the nuclear-weapons sites.

Effective sanctions, however, should make force unnecessary. Even Ahmadinejad has admitted that economic sanctions are having an effect, as evident in the collapse in value of the Iranian rial.

But stronger action is needed, especially in the banking and energy sectors. While some countries, notably Russia, China and India, have resisted joining the international community's sanctions crackdown, there is a developing consensus on imposing an embargo on Iranian oil.

The 27-member European Union last month agreed to stop importing Iranian oil by July. Significantly, the EU also decided to join with the U.S. and Great Britain in terminating all dealings with Iran's Central Bank.

Furthermore, encouragement should be given to the stealth campaign to stymie Iran's nuclear push. Whoever is behind the computer viruses, industrial accidents and eliminated scientists that plague this nuclear venture, the accumulated impact of these impediments is perhaps slowing down and may eventually deter the program's execution.

And why not turn Iran into a political pariah? Nations should be downgrading diplomatic relations with Tehran, barring Ahmadinejad from visiting, as he recently did in Latin America, and naming and shaming those companies that continue to do business with it.

Finally, there is a long-term dimension to the problem, indeed a wake-up call for all Americans. If the U.S. could secure its own energy security — admittedly, no easy task — and no longer depend on overseas oil, neither Iran nor any oil-rich nation will be able to have us "over a barrel" again.

Wendy Rosen is director of the American Jewish Committee's Seattle region.

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