Yesterday in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took up President Barack Obama’s oft-repeated invitation to engage in direct talks with the United States. President Ahmadinejad told a rally celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution: “It is clear that change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people want real changes.” What is not clear is how much longer President Ahmadinejad will be president. There is a good chance he will lose the June 12 election to former President Mohammad Khatami. But remember, it was under Khatami that, according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate, Iran first embarked on its nuclear weapon program.

Further complicating the issue, last week Iran launched its first domestically produced satellite into orbit using an Iranian-built rocket. The Safir-2 (“ambassador”) rocket used for the demonstration is not even Iran’s most powerful missile: the Shahab-3 is. But the Safir-2 is still plenty dangerous. It’s 1,500 mile range is capable of reaching most parts of the greater Middle East, including Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The intelligence community currently asserts that Iran has terminated its nuclear weapons program, but last week’s launch makes it clear that Tehran’s missile program is running well ahead of its nuclear ambitions. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi told reporters last week, “Iran’s space advancement serves no military purpose.” But then yesterday Qashqavi also made a point of refuting British reports that Iran is running out of raw uranium. As Heritage fellows Baker Spring and James Phillips point out, this begs the question:

It stretches credulity to assume that Iran is investing its scarce resources so heavily to develop and deploy long-range ballistic missiles merely to arm them with conventional warheads. The disturbing question that the intelligence community needs to answer is: What kind of warheads will Iran put on long-range missiles and how do they plan to acquire these warheads?

Today a conference committee in Congress is haggling over how to spend over $1 trillion in borrowed money for a supposed economic stimulus. Virtually none of it will go to protecting Americans.  And it shouldn’t.  Our national defense deserves a sustained 4% of GDP, not politically tinged stimulus bailouts. But the priorities portrayed by the Obama Administration and Congress in the stimulus package are worrying, as is their record on other defense issues so far. They are looking to terminate the F-22, the only plane that can guarantee penetration of Iranian air defenses. And the Obama Administration said nothing when Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), declared, “We are going to cut weapons systems” and singled out the missile-defense program.

Continuing to develop and field effective ballistic missile defenses for the protection of the U.S. and its allies must be at the top of the U.S. agenda. Tonight the Heritage Foundation will premier a full length documentary 33 Minutes, which is the time it would take a ballistic missile from any foreign enemy to reach the United States. Explaining his support for a missile defense shield in the film, Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar said, “I am a diplomat, but I feel much more comfortable negotiating when I know that I am safe.” Negotiation is essential to diplomacy. But it is always better to negotiate from strength.

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