Iran exports the tools of terrorism. That's why so many nations around the world get so nervous about Iran developing a nuclear arsenal. And because no modern nation is immune to the horrors of terrorism - not the United States, not Russia, not Great Britain, not Israel, not even China - all of them have a vested interest in Iran remaining nuke-free. They should want to discourage a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, as well.

Iran exports the tools of terrorism.


That's why so many nations around the world get so nervous about Iran developing a nuclear arsenal. And because no modern nation is immune to the horrors of terrorism - not the United States, not Russia, not Great Britain, not Israel, not even China - all of them have a vested interest in Iran remaining nuke-free. They should want to discourage a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, as well.


Curious, then, that the likes of Russia and China would be so reluctant to impose consequences on a bad-boy regime that repeatedly has proven it can't play well with others. The U.S. can do its own thing in trying to punish Iran into better behavior - harsher economic sanctions - but it won't mean much if Russia and China don't go along. Like the United States, Russia and China enjoy single-vote veto power on the United Nations Security Council, which has the authority to impose international sanctions.


Iran has been acting up quite a bit recently, above and beyond the crooked election it ran last summer that sparked so many street protests. On Friday of last week the leaders of the U.S., Britain and France accused the Iranians of operating a clandestine, underground uranium enrichment plant near Iran's holy city of Qom. On Sunday Iran fired test missiles with enough range to hit Israel. Its leaders have been flexing their vocal chords, too, with a top Revolutionary Guard official saying that "Iranian missiles are able to target any place that threatens Iran," including parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf. (Apparently President George W. Bush was right in December 2007, as was this opinion page, to be skeptical of the National Intelligence Estimate's "high confidence" report that Iran had "halted" development of its nuclear weapons program in 2003.)


All of that comes in advance of the first direct talks in decades between U.S. and Iran, in Switzerland on Thursday. And all of that is fine and good, though arguably the leaders Uncle Sam really needs to be talking to live in Moscow and Beijing.


That's tough, because Russia and China are effectively allies, or at least defenders, of this belligerent Iran. Russia is a neighbor that sells military equipment and has various other business with a regime whose cooperation it would like to have in the immediate region. China is a major trading partner, with specific interest in Iran's oil reserves.


Beyond that, complicating matters here for the West - besides just the general unreliability of our intelligence in the Middle East - is that any sanctions that end up hurting ordinary Iraqis could backfire and build local support for the ayatollah/Ahmadinejad cabal while choking the life out of the protest movement there. Iran will never change its ways unless there is near-universal condemnation of its conduct.


Fortunately, the U.S. is not without its leverage with both of the other major world powers. Certainly with China, well, we Americans buy their stuff, and judging by our trade deficit quite a bit more than they purchase of ours. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama recently made nice with Moscow by backing off the missile shield system championed by his predecessor in Eastern Europe; Russia also has emphatically objected to NATO expansion within its sphere of influence.


In short, Washington does have the ability to exploit those issues and play some hardball here. This will be a real test of whether the Obama administration is willing to use all of the foreign policy tools at its disposal.


If the Big 3 do nothing, then they'll forgive Israel - the nation most threatened by Iran's nuclear ambitions - if its leaders view that inaction as a green light to take matters into their own hands, as Israel did in bombing an Iraqi reactor near Baghdad in 1981. Are the Big 3 willing to risk the dominoes that could set in motion?


Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star