WASHINGTON (BP)–New claims from Iran about its nuclear capability demonstrate how important it is for President Obama to take the lead in trying to prevent the radical Islamic regime from developing a weapon of mass destruction, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said Feb. 11.
The comments by the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission came after Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated his country is a “nuclear state” and said Iranian scientists had enriched uranium to 20 percent for the first time, according to The New York Times. The Iranian president offered the remarks Feb. 11 before a massive crowd of supporters in Tehran on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
Ahmadinejad also said Iran could achieve substantially greater levels of uranium enrichment, The Times reported. Nuclear specialists have said Iran could rather quickly upgrade its enriched uranium to 90 percent, which is about the grade of a nuclear weapon, once it reached the 20-percent level, according to the newspaper. Ahmadinejad’s claims, however, could not be confirmed by an independent source, The Times said.
“It is more important than ever that President Obama lead the world in implementing strict and harsh sanctions such as the ones recently passed by the Congress to dissuade Ahmadinejad and his rogue regime from their destructive and destabilizing goals,” Land said.
The House of Representatives and Senate passed bills in December and January, respectively, that include calls for the imposition of sanctions on anyone who knowingly enables Iran to continue its domestic oil production or who aids in the importation of oil products to the country. A conference committee of members from both chambers must work out differences before a final version can be approved and sent to the president.
The votes by both houses of Congress “demonstrate that President Obama has the firm, bipartisan support he needs to show the Iranian regime that we are serious,” Land said in a written statement released by Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-free Iran.
Land called on the House and Senate to “finish what they started. They must quickly reconcile their respective versions of the Iran sanctions legislation and get a bill to the president’s desk for his signature.”
Ahmadinejad told the crowd in Tehran, according to news reports cited by The Times, “When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb.”
He also said, however, in an apparent reference to the United States and its allies, “The Iranian nation is brave enough that if one day we wanted to build nuclear bombs we would announce it publicly without being afraid of you.”
The Obama administration expressed doubt regarding Ahmadinejad’s claims for Iran’s enrichment capabilities.
“Iran has made a series of statements that are … based on politics, not on physics,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Feb. 11.
Land told Baptist Press, “It’s become clear over the years that one cannot take at face value any statement made by President Ahmadinejad and his rogue regime in Iran. He and his government are the chief sponsors of terror in the world. The idea that a man and regime as radical and unstable as they are could possess such a weapon of mass destruction as a nuclear bomb is as unthinkable as it is possible.
“It is clear that Ahmadinejad and his regime have been engaged in a head-long pursuit to achieve nuclear capability at the expense of many other priorities that would improve the lives of the Iranian people,” Land added.
The Iranian government cracked down on protesters as Ahmadinejad spoke at the anniversary celebration, according to Internet sites operated by the opposition, The Times reported. Anti-government demonstrators gathered in Tehran and other Iranian cities, according to reports cited by the newspaper.
Iranian officials cut back on Internet service in the country and canceled text messaging, The Times said.
Iran announced Feb. 8 it would inaugurate an effort to enrich uranium to 20 percent, supposedly for fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran, according to The Times.
The U.S. Treasury Department responded by instituting sanctions against a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and four corporations connected to the group, the newspaper reported.
Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-free Iran has been calling on Congress over the last five months to pass legislation calling for stiffer sanctions on Iran. In addition to Land, other Southern Baptists who have signed on to coalition letters to the House and Senate are former SBC presidents Jack Graham and James Merritt, former North American Mission Board President Robert Reccord and conservative resurgence leader Paul Pressler.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.