If Vice President Biden’s weekend comments are any indication, the White House isn’t taking Iran’s recent claim to be a nuclear state very seriously.  In a report by the New York Times, Biden said of Iran, “It is not a nuclear power.”  Biden went on to explain that, in his opinion, Ahmadinejad is exaggerating.

Biden is correct in a narrow sense: Iran is not yet a nuclear weapons power.  But it is well on its way to becoming one.  And the Obama Administration must take much stronger action to prevent this, not downplay the threat.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and that he will “do everything that’s required to prevent it.”    But the administration has not followed up on these words with concrete actions.  Instead it has favored the engagement track of its dual track strategy and failed to move forward on the sanctions track.  In fact the Obama Administration has opposed congressional moves to impose further sanctions on Iran.

In part this is because the Obama Administration entered office with the naïve presumption that it could strike a nuclear deal with Iran because the regime wanted better relations with the West.  But as a 2008 report by Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips and Peter Brookes made clear, the regime feared that better relations with the United States would undermine its own power.  The report warned that:

[The Obama administration] must learn from the experience of previous Administrations and European governments that have sought negotiations with Iran. The diplomatic path is not promising. Iran has strongly resisted international efforts to pressure it to abide by its legal commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and halt its suspect nuclear activities

Fast-forward to 2010.  We now have an Iran that claims to be nuclear and a White House dismissive of those claims.  Obama promised to do everything he could to stop this from happening.  Yet the administration continues to drag its feet on the gasoline sanctions that both houses of congress approved in separate bills.

The results of downplaying Iran’s nuclear challenge are very dangerous.  Although Ahmadinejad claimed that Iran isn’t making a bomb right now, an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability would present a grave threat to the American people and our allies. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61% of Americans view Iran’s military power as a “critical threat” to U.S. interests, and only 8% feel that Iran is not important. Unfortunately, the American people are much more concerned about Iran than the government, charged with keeping the nation safe, seems to be.

It is unclear what the Obama administration plans to do about Iran as it was only mentioned in one sentence at the end of the Defense Department’s recently released 128-page Quadrennial Defense Review.

Pursuing new U.N. sanctions is an option, according the New York Times, but China isn’t interested in placing sanctions on their largest oil supplier.  One thing is for sure, according to Jim DeMint (R-SC): “hope is not a strategy.”

Jessica LaHousse currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm