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Why West struggles to rein in Iran's nuclear program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to attend the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference next week in New York. Sanctions have slowed – but not arrested – Iran's nuclear program.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l.) gestured toward a third-generation domestically built centrifuge for enriching uranium April 8. With him is Ali Akbar Salehi (r.), chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. The West's sanctions have not halted Iran's nuclear bomb program.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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Making dire predictions about Iran's nuclear programs has been a parlor game since the mid-1980s.

Jane's Defence Weekly, a well-respected military-related publication, in 1984 estimated that the Islamic Republic was two years from making an atomic bomb. By 1992, the CIA was predicting an Iranian nuclear weapon by the end of the decade. In 1995, Israel agreed. The breathless warnings have almost never stopped.

Today, Iran's potential to soon join the nuclear club is informed by the latest US estimate that Iran may be one year away from having enough enriched uranium for a weapon, though actually making one – if Iran wanted to – is still years off. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to attend the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference next week in New York with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has called for stricter sanctions.

What does Iran teach us about how much a determined nation can achieve despite concerted efforts by many world powers to stop it? In recent decades, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have all in secret become nuclear weapons states.

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