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Clear and Present Danger

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON -- Now that the festivities are over, it is time for the masters of the media to stop asking inane questions of the new folks in town -- such as, "How do you like your new office?" -- and for the Obama administration to get down to work on a clear and present danger.

Notwithstanding the "day one" and "first week" coverage, the most pressing issue confronting the American people isn't closing "Gitmo" or the always ephemeral "Mideast peace process" in the aftermath of Gaza or even "fixing the economy." Item No. 1 ought to be preventing the world's No. 1 exporter of radical Islamic terror from obtaining nuclear weapons: Iran. Unfortunately, the new administration is not off to an auspicious start.

On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after his inaugural, the Obama White House Web site announced, inter alia , that they will engage in "tough and direct" diplomacy with Iran "without preconditions" and that he intends to use "the power of American diplomacy" to deal with "Iran's illicit nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel." According to the statement, the new commander in chief believes that "seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress." If that's really what Mr. Obama believes, he is -- to put it politely -- mistaken. This "new approach" includes little more than what our European allies have been trying for more than five years.

The White House statement suggests that if Iran abandons its effort to acquire nuclear weapons, the U.S. will offer incentives, such as membership in the World Trade Organization, new economic investment and normalized diplomatic relations. It also notes that if Iran continues its "troubling behavior," we will lead efforts to further Iranian economic and political isolation. The only difference between this proposal and the Bush administration's is that the U.S. now will have an official seat at the table while Tehran's emissaries diddle the diplomats with deceit, deception and delay.

Before issuing such a "bold initiative" and "outreach" toward the theocrats ruling in Tehran, Mr. Obama's advisers should have shown their boss the report provided late last month to French President Nicolas Sarkozy from a nonpartisan parliamentary commission on Iran's nuclear program. The report details Tehran's success in circumventing U.N. sanctions and concludes that Iranian scientists already have the know-how to build a nuclear weapon and that unless action is taken to prevent it, they will possess all necessary technology, equipment and fissile material to deploy nuclear weapons no later than the end of next year, "perhaps sooner."

Note to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta: President Sarkozy has shared this report with other Western intelligence and diplomatic missions, but only the Europeans appear to have read it. They are not waiting for the "new hand of progress" to do a grip and grin with a radical Iranian ayatollah who believes "Zionism should be wiped from the earth."

On Thursday, while Mrs. Clinton was doing a meet and greet with her new staff at Foggy Bottom, diplomats from the 27 states of the European Union recommended removing an Iranian exile opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, from the EU terror list. The agreement is expected to be ratified by the EU foreign ministers when they meet in Brussels, Belgium, Monday.

If the EU determination is affirmed, only the U.S. will continue to describe the PMOI as a "terrorist organization" -- a designation it earned in the 1980s, when it received support from Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. I know because I chaired the meeting that made the recommendation. But that was then; this is now.

The PMOI, it should be noted, is the group that first alerted the world to Iran's covert nuclear program. Though most Western intelligence agencies dismissed the charge in 2002 and the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency scoffed at the allegations, the information was spot on. Since then, the PMOI has provided covert surveillance and reporting on inbound and outbound Iranian arms shipments, such as the weapons-laden vessel bound for Syria interdicted this week in the Red Sea by a U.S. warship on counter-piracy patrol. Unfortunately, only the lawyers were at work Wednesday, so the Cypriot-flagged ship was allowed to proceed toward the Suez Canal with hopes that perhaps the Egyptians would find a reason to stop it.

If Mr. Obama is truly serious about getting the attention of the ayatollahs, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the people of Iran, he ought to remove the PMOI from the U.S. terror blacklist immediately and give the EU kudos for their leadership. Such action would be an extraordinary signal of support for those who want to bring about a change in Tehran. After all, isn't "change" what this administration is all about?

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