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N. Korea, Pakistan called world’s top nuclear threats

Lecturer to say focus on Iran, Iraq leaves real perils untouched

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There wasn't a real nuclear threat in Iraq, and there isn't one currently in Iran. Instead, two other countries and one man in particular are on the worry radar of weapon proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione.

On Thursday Westminster College will host a lecture by Cirincione, director for Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. His speech is titled, "Looking for weapons in all the wrong places: How we got it so wrong in Iraq and how we can get it right in Iran."

North Korea has nuclear weapons. Pakistan has an unstable government, armed fundamentalist Islamic groups and material to build at least 30 nuclear weapons. And nuclear terrorism is as close as Osama bin Laden being able to get his hands on the enough of the right materials to build a bomb, according to Cirincione.

"Those are the more urgent threats," he told the Deseret Morning News.

A question that lingers is why the United States and its allies aren't doing more to address those threats, Cirincione added.

One answer is that so much attention in the Middle East these days is focused on overlapping agendas that include interest in oil, Israel and a regional transformation — starting with Iraq — into a more democratic society, according to Cirincione. "So far, the results have not been good," he said of the latter.

The vision of a politically transformed Middle East, he said, is dying on the battlefield of Iraq and the process itself is proving more costly and complicated than anyone imagined.

What people in this country still don't understand, Cirincione said, is that just prior to declaring war on Iraq, there was no intelligence that could confirm the presence of any weapons of mass destruction.

The intelligence assessment at the time, he added, did not determine the decision whether to go to war — it was the decision to go to war, Cirincione said, that determined what the intelligence assessment should be.

"They saw Saddam as a threat that had to be removed," Cirincione said of senior officials in the Bush administration.

The real threats Saddam Hussein did pose at the time, he added, were that he had a military force that was a threat to neighboring countries, that he could be a threat again to Israel and that he was already a threat to his own people.

Now Iran's leader is rattling cages, but the country is still at least five years away from being able to enrich enough uranium and develop enough technology to produce nuclear weapons, according to Cirincione, who said he is worried about how heated the rhetoric is getting on both sides of this issue.

"Iran is not a nuclear bomb crisis — it's a nuclear diplomacy crisis," he added.

One key at this point, Cirincione said, is continued isolation of Iran and the support of Russia, China and India in that effort. "It's going to take time for that to work," he said.

But in an action/reaction, dominoes-will-fall kind of scenario painted by Cirincione, military conflict could become reality in Iran without a weapons threat if the rhetoric and response boils over. He recalled World War I as a lesson in the context of how to handle Iran.

"I'm very worried," he said, "about that situation with Iran right now."

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com