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Iran sneaking ahead on nukes

The regime in charge of Iran would have the world believe that concerns about its nuclear weapons program are greatly exaggerated, mostly by Israel and the United States.

But every step of the way, Tehran sidesteps or outright ignores agreements it makes, which also makes every action it takes suspicious.

For instance, on Friday Iran launched its third satellite, ostensibly to collect weather data and to spot natural disasters. The satellite, a lightweight at 110 pounds, is expected to circle the planet 15 times a day for two months before going out of service.

The concern isn't really the satellite itself, which may or may not be monitoring weather. What concerns the U.S. and the rest of the world is the fact that the delivery system has a 20 percent increase in launch power over previous satellites. State Department officials in the United States see the Safir rocket used Friday as a critical stage technologically in the development of a long-range ballistic missile and say it violates the 2010 U.N. resolution forbidding Iran to conduct launches utilizing ballistic missile technology. Already the nation has missile delivery systems capable of reaching Israel, southeastern Europe and U.S. bases at the Persian Gulf.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- never fearful to make statements that are blatantly contrary to prevailing evidence -- summed up the satellite launch by saying he was "hopeful this act will send a signal of more friendship among all human beings."

No chance of that, Mahmoud.

The launching comes on the heels of failed talks between Iran and the U.N.'s nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on ways to defuse allegations that Tehran is secretly working on atomic weapons. Not only were the agency officials unable to persuade Iranian officials to allow an inspection of Parchin -- a military complex where it's suspected that Tehran is developing nuclear arms -- but top Iranian officials refused to meet with the IAEA team.

Given the Iranian government's history of making agreements and promptly reneging on them, there's a substantial chance that the nation is utilizing a stalling technique designed to delay U.N. intervention until it is too late to put the atomic genie back into the bottle.

When the team returns on Feb. 19, U.N. officials will know for certain whether it has any intentions to allow the IAEA to investigate the allegations. A simple "trust us at our word -- we're innocent" response from the regime in Tehran -- one that has earned complete distrust -- should not be accepted.

There are two scenarios. In one, Iran is a peace-loving nation that only wants to generate nuclear power and delve into space for the betterment of its citizens. In the other, Iran is stonewalling until it can develop a nuclear arsenal and a long-range delivery system that will place it militarily on par with Israel and give it leverage in dealing with Europe and the United States.

Israel -- the nation most at risk in this gambit -- is nervous enough that a spring military attack on Iranian facilities is not a far-fetched notion. And reports are that while Iran's Arab neighbors oppose Israel, of the two nations they fear an Iran with nuclear capabilities much more than they do Israel.

The course seems clear. Either Iran comes clean voluntarily and abandons its nuclear ambitions or the U.N. should immediately take punitive steps against it severe enough that it has no choice but to turn off this dangerous road it is traveling.