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May 8th, 2009
01:34 PM ET

Iran 'deadly serious' about nukes

Washington (CNN) - The man who spear-headed financial investigations of Iran, New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, warned Wednesday that Iran is "deadly serious" about gaining nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

"I am not an expert on proliferation but we have consulted a lot of people who are and it comes out loud and clear - it is late in this game and we don't have a lot of time to stop Iran from developing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons," Morgenthau told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Morgenthau helped uncover a multi-billion-dollar scam that Iran used to move money through U.S. financial institutions to help buy materials for its nuclear and missile programs. In January a large British bank agreed to pay $350-million in fines after it was accused of helping Iran hide the transactions.

CNN's Carol Costello spoke with Morgenthau on Thursday.

The investigation provided what Morgenthau called "Iran's shopping list" for weapons of mass destruction. "The Iranians are deadly serious about proceeding with this program and, number two, that it is later than a lot of people think. And frankly some of the people we have consulted are shocked by the sophistication of the equipment they are buying. So we don't have a lot of time to waste."

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Senator John Kerry, (D) Massachusetts, said he wanted to explore both the obstacles and opportunities of engaging Iran. "This is the time to reaffirm our commitment to giving meaningful negotiations with Iran's leaders a chance, not simply fall back on the stale rhetoric and failed strategies of the previous years."

Kerry called sanctions a blunt instrument with an imperfect track record. He said sanctions may have slowed but did not prevent Iran's nuclear program as the country moved forward with enrichment of uranium on an industrial scale.

"Our preference is engagement. Our preference is not to have confrontation of any kind, through sanctions or otherwise but that will depend on choices that Iran itself makes," Kerry said.

And Kerry said his committee is poised to release a new report on Iran's nuclear program, either today or tomorrow.

Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, said he feared the United States and Iran were on a collision course, with no diplomatic relationship since the Carter Administration.

"I do see the Iranians as a real threat to our country. There is no question they are seeking a nuclear weapons capability. No one doubts that. They are the principal funder of most of the Middle East terrorist groups that are shooting at us, shooting at the Israelis and the moderate Palestinians. And they are influential in Iraq and Afghanistan and sometimes in ways that are very negative to U.S. interests," Burns said. He now is a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Burns said past policies toward Iran had failed and that he favored an approach of engagement, backed up by threats both of sanctions and of military force. "We've got to negotiate from a position of strength. We can't go hat in hand to these negotiating and think by just talking we are going to make progress," Burns said. And he said any negotiations with Iran must have a strict timetable and include a previous agreement with both Russia and China for harsh sanctions if the talks fail. And all this should be backed up by the possibility of military action.

"I do think it makes sense to keep the threat of force on the table. I do not see Iran negotiating seriously if there is not a marriage between diplomacy and the threat of force; it is a language they understand," Burns said.

"Since 9/11 we often have led with the military. At least in the case of Afghanistan that was appropriate. Sometimes it is better to lead with diplomacy, with the military in reserve . I think this is one of those times."

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