Oliver North

The clandestine Iranian nuclear program was underway for nearly 18 years before being discovered. When International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors finally investigated, the Iranians lied and destroyed evidence. Confronted by their European bankers and trading partners two years ago, the theocrats responded with denials, deceit and defiance. When the United Nations passed a "soft sanctions" resolution last December, the Iranian regime expedited the installation of gas centrifuges at their Nantaz uranium enrichment complex. And last month, after the United Nations passed a second sanctions resolution, Tehran announced new limits on "cooperation" with the IAEA and blocked access to their Arak heavy water reactor -- a facility believed capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons when completed. And that's not all.

In January, U.S. Special Operations units captured five senior operatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force in Irbil, Iraq. In Baghdad, weapons and explosives provided by Iran to Iraqi terror cells were put on display. On March 23, the Iranians responded by taking 15 British military personnel hostage, and threatening the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. And there's more.

This week, while the world grieved at the bloodshed in Blacksburg, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced, "We have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran." Hours later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly stated that Iran's military would "cut off the hands off any aggressors." This is the same head of state who has promised that "the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel will soon come to the end of their lives."

Despite Gates' confidence in diplomacy, it should be clear that talking with deranged despots is more dangerous than encouraging deeply disturbed gunmen to seek counseling. While there is still time, the United States should take the following five initiatives to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

-- Reaffirm that the United States is no longer bound by the abysmal Algiers Accord -- negotiated by Jimmy Carter -- proscribing U.S. intervention in "Iran's internal affairs."

-- Strengthen connections with opposition groups, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and other organizations devoted to regime change in Tehran.

-- Ignore "diplomatic" complaints about economic sanctions and inform foreign banks and businesses trading with Iran that they cannot do business in the United States.

-- Publicize Tehran's human rights abuses, as we once did with the Soviet Union.

-- Use Voice of America, Radio Farda and Internet broadcasts to inform the people of Iran of our affection for them, and the dangers posed by their radical, unstable leaders.

Taking these actions now against the irrational regime in Tehran could well prevent the mournful refrain we heard after the carnage in Columbine and Virginia Tech: Why didn't we do something to prevent this terrible toll?

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.