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Published: Wednesday, 2/17/2010

Needless war talk

NEWS reports and analysis on Iran may fuel the passions of those who would like to see a war there, despite the United States' preoccupation with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One area of focus is Iran's nuclear aspirations and the threat they are alleged to pose to the United States. Another is presentation of its government as meriting regime change. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose 2009 re-election was disputed as questionable if not fraudulent, helps to fuel by his own words the portrayal of him as intemperate, dangerously ambitious, anti-American and demagogic.

Iran is still a long way from having a nuclear weapons capability. Mr. Ahmadinejad said on the 31st anniversary of the ayatollahs' accession to power that Iran is capable of enriching uranium to weapons-grade level, but that is unconfirmed. Iran is able to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent. Mr. Ahmadinejad says it will seek the level of 20 percent enrichment.

This work is being done under surveillance, although not control, at Iran's reactor at Natanz by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nuclear weapons require at least 90 percent enriched uranium.

The characterization that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his government are vile enough to justify regime change — the same way the Bush administration portrayed Saddam Hussein in Iraq to justify the war launched in 2003 — is fanciful. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a poor leader for Iran. At the same time, the active opposition to him found in the Iranian streets, press, and business world is evidence that he is not an effective dictator. Think what Saddam Hussein would have done in Iraq in those circumstances.

A war against Iran would not be in America's interests, at a time when President Obama seeks to revive the economy, reduce unemployment, and curtail deficits. In sizing up Iran, this is a time for watchful restraint, while keeping the nation's powder dry.

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