Iran factor:

President Bush began his second term with speculation rising about future military moves against Iran. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney placed Iran first on the list of world trouble spots. Thus far, Bush has kept his own counsel. But these hawkish rumblings eerily recall the months before the US invasion of Iraq when some of the same officials pressed hardest for military action, while the president remained publicly uncommitted. We hope that this time, wiser heads in the administration will intervene before it is too late.

There is no question that Iran has been covertly developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons, and that diplomacy has so far failed to end these efforts. But precipitate US military action would almost do far more harm than good. An invasion of a country almost three times as populous as Iraq is well beyond the means of America’s depleted ground forces.

The most effective leverage available to Washington is international economic sanctions. Either fully renounce its nuclear enrichment programmes and win significant trade and economic incentives or fail to do so and suffer severe economic penalties. The Iranian nuclear challenge could not be more dangerous or more pressing. It is time to put aside unilateral American military bluster and European wishful diplomacy and get serious. — The New York Times