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It is always easier to shout in anger than to talk calmly and reasonably in moments of maximum pressure. It is always easier to condemn than to compromise with adversaries. It is always easier to fight than to negotiate, especially when you are strong and your enemies seem weak.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the United States has done a lot of shouting, condemning and fighting. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where we have fought a long, inconclusive war, declared an “axis of evil” and demanded rapid “democratization” on our terms. None of these actions has accomplished very much. Our counterproductive foreign behavior has seeped into our domestic politics — also dominated by shouting, condemning and fighting today. We are stymied at home and abroad because we have become unable to work through differences without personal attacks and government shutdowns.

Historic progress with Iran

Thursday’s dramatic announcement that the United States, Iran and five other nations have reached an agreement to curtail Iran’s threatening nuclear weapons program, in return for a lifting of international sanctions, is an example of what diplomacy, negotiation and compromise can accomplish. After more than 35 years of conflict, dating back to the Iranian Revolution, representatives from Washington and Tehran sat across the table from one another for intensive discussions aimed at improving relations between the two states.

The agreement announced on Thursday, if enforced, will open Iran’s nuclear program to the West, just as it reopens Western trade with Iran. Tehran will not assemble a nuclear weapon, and Washington will end its efforts to isolate a vibrant Iranian society. The truth is that Washington and Tehran are already working closely together in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and last week’s agreement will allow the two states to find further opportunities for strategic cooperation.

Many critics correctly identify the Iranian state as a continuing sponsor of terrorists in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, the Palestinian territories and other areas. Leaders in Tehran refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. They also deny the Holocaust and subscribe to numerous racist conspiracy theories about Jews and Christians. The Iranian government is not the most authoritarian or repressive regime in the Middle East — our friends, the Saudis, take that award — but the leaders of Tehran are clearly dangerous and antagonistic to many of our most deeply held values. We should not pretend otherwise.       

Misplaced priorities?

The point of diplomacy is that nations and peoples must learn to live with countries they do not trust, even ones that they despise. The world is a very diverse and dangerous place. The United States does not have the power, the knowledge or the moral claim to right the wrongs of every region and deny recognition to every government it disdains. Time and again, overreliance on military force and moral self-righteousness has produced unsatisfactory results. Just think of Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — all places where the United States deployed extensive force and spent billions of dollars over the last 40 years. It is very hard to argue that the United States achieved any enduring democratization in these countries, despite all the costs. Some of these countries, including Iraq and Libya, are more violent now than before American intervention.

Force is a necessary component of international relations, but it is not sufficient. Nor is financial assistance effective when local leaders are able to confiscate resources for their own purposes rather than the needs of a country’s population. The recent historical record shows that American force and money, although deployed widely, have delivered very little value in reforming societies.

President Barack Obama, elected to office in the shadow of the Iraq War and the 2008 economic recession, recognized these historical facts, as did many of the millions of Americans who voted for him. Mainline Republicans, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger said similar things. The United States needed to improve its foreign policy results by investing more heavily in negotiations and compromise with powerful adversaries, especially Iran. President Ronald Reagan had tried to do exactly that in the 1980s, and the time had come again to build a working relationship between Washington and Tehran for stability in the Middle East.

A powerful step in the direction of stability

The agreement reached last week was a powerful step in that direction and everyone, regardless of political party, should support it. Iran is still a threat to many American interests, but a working relationship that limits Iranian development of nuclear weapons and increases American access to Iranian society is good for the United States. We still cannot trust Iran, but an agreement that provides a basis for verification allows for some testing of suspicions. The Iranians would, of course, say similar things about the United States. The two adversaries need to start somewhere in building cooperation to replace escalating conflict. The negotiators of the recent agreement deserve praise for creating some reasonable hope.

Shouting, condemning and fighting always sound more righteous and pure, but politics is not about righteousness or purity. Talk to any veteran of the Iraq War and he or she will make this point through the countless stories of suffering, among all belligerents, witnessed firsthand. Effective politics turn on the ability to work with adversaries and construct agreements that make circumstances a little better.

The burden on critics of compromise, at home and abroad, is to offer a more promising alternative. If all you can offer is chest-thumping about the evils of the adversary, then get ready for more of the warfare abroad and stagnation we have seen at home during the last decade. Democracy is ultimately about getting things done by working with groups we love and hate, and with whom we share the planet.

Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the Department of History. Follow Suri on Twitter @JeremiSuri.

Negotiate with Iran? Bad idea

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, from left, are on their way to a meeting during their nuvlear talks on Iran, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Joe Klamar, Pool)

 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, from left, are on their way to a meeting during their nuvlear talks on Iran, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Joe Klamar, Pool)  

Sometimes, America’s enemies are easier to read than “Dick and Jane,” which should make policymaking fairly straightforward. We knew that the Nazis planned on conquering Western Europe, so we fought Germany once Japan drew us into World War II. We know that Venezuela wants to maintain its centrally planned economy and authoritarian political system, so we draw closer to neighboring Colombia. And yet, even though we know that Iran wants to empower its strain of Shia fundamentalism by building a nuclear weapon, American diplomats have shown a troubling willingness to engage with Tehran, a topic Jeremi Suri took on in his column last week.

Now that the second negotiation deadline has come and gone, a few points have become abundantly clear. Iran is not willing to abandon its uranium enrichment program, which it claims it will use to develop nuclear energy — a position that makes no sense for an oil-rich state with its eye set on regional hegemony. It won’t let international monitors inspect its facilities to prove they’re being used for peaceful purposes. It has shown its religious intolerance by hosting several anti-Semitic conferences in recent years, and its state-run PressTV station regularly publishes anti-American propaganda on subjects ranging from Vladimir Putin to Sept. 11. Simply put, Iran is not a friend.

But no matter how clearly Tehran articulates its intentions, the Obama administration insists that the U.S. can stop Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations. Worse still, the U.S. is throwing away its most significant bargaining chips, calling into question how much it can really gain through diplomacy. When Iranian civilians took to the streets in protest during the Arab Spring, the U.S. did not lend its support to the secular revolutionaries, even as it promoted their more religiously motivated counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. American leaders have also refused to tighten economic sanctions and have taken military action against Iranian rivals like ISIS,  This appeasement of the autocratic Iranian regime is a dangerous move on President Obama’s part.

The problem isn’t limited to Iran, either. For decades, the U.S. has supported the repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia in spite of its support for militant groups and its abysmal human rights record. This close relationship has torpedoed American credibility in the Middle East, for good reason. After all, how can a Pakistani woman take solace in America’s fight against the Taliban while the U.S.-backed Saudi monarchy still bans women from driving, testifying in court, or appearing in public without abiding by a strict religious dress code? Similarly, why should a Shiite in Syria believe that America cares about his civil liberties while Saudi Shiites can be stoned for apostasy? When so many Middle Easterners consider the U.S. meddling and hypocritical, fighting terrorism becomes challenging and maintaining close ties with democracies virtually impossible.

It stands to reason, then, that the U.S. must take a harsher stance if it has any hope of halting Iran’s nuclear program. There are a few solutions that stop short of military threats while still placing greater pressure on the Iranian regime. Given the role that economic sanctions played in getting Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, tougher penalties might motivate its leaders to make some critical concessions. The U.S. could also threaten to scale back its war against ISIS, which benefits both Iran and its closest regional ally, the Syrian government. And as long as Iran continues its freeze on uranium enrichment during negotiations, the U.S. could try stalling until more agreeable leaders take control in Tehran. Iranian religious elders will likely select a new Supreme Leader in 2016, and it’s worth monitoring whether they choose another anti-Western fundamentalist like the incumbent Ali Khamenei or a reformer in President Hassan Rouhani’s mold. There’s also hope that with a little international support, popular uprisings against the regime could succeed in secularizing Iran’s government.

Supporting repressive regimes might promote American interests in the short run, but it’s a deeply unreliable long-term tactic. Fortunately, those allies that eschew openly anti-American positions like Egypt and Saudi Arabia don’t pose a direct threat to American civilians. But Iran is a different story. Negotiating with an explicitly hostile Tehran does little to bolster America’s homeland security. From a more regional perspective, trusting Iran to comply with an agreement places millions of innocent lives in the Middle East in the hands of a fundamentalist government with clearly stated genocidal goals. As Suri wrote last week, trust between the U.S. and foreign governments is paramount to achieving American goals. But it’s better to go it alone than to put blind faith in an untrustworthy partner.

Shenhar is a Plan II, government, and economics sophomore from Westport, Connecticut. Follow Shenhar on Twitter @jshenhar.

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: An earlier version of this column ran with a cartoon which inaccurately stated the name of the cartoonist. The correct cartoonist is Connor Murphy. 

In the world of international politics, allies and adversaries seem static for long periods of time, but then they shift quickly and decisively. American relations with Russia are an excellent example of this phenomenon. The countries were Cold War enemies in the 1980s, strategic partners in the 1990s, and now they are antagonists again. Iraq is another prime example. In the 1980s Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was an American ally, in the 1990s he became a strategic threat, and in 2003 Americans labeled him an enemy in the “Global War on Terror.” Britain’s great nineteenth century prime minister, Lord Palmerston, put it best when he observed that countries do not have permanent allies or adversaries, only permanent interests.

During the 1970s, Iran was one of the United States’ most important allies in the Middle East. Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s dictatorship, the government in Tehran used its vast oil wealth to build a modern state that imported technology from abroad and contained both communism and Islamism in the region. The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia worked closely with Iran to protect the flow of oil and maintain political stability.

When the Islamic Revolution in Iran overthrew the Shah in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, the United States and Tehran became mortal enemies. Iran’s new leader, the Ayatollah Kohmeini, called America the “Great Satan.” Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan labeled Iran a “terrorist state” and they worked to overthrow the regime. Carter and Reagan also negotiated with the Iranian government when they felt the regime could facilitate the release of American hostages in Tehran and other parts of the Middle East. These negotiations, however, did not reduce the enmity between Washington and Tehran.

Iran’s effort to develop nuclear power, and an accompanying weapons capability, crossed both periods, before and after the 1979 revolution. Encouraged by the United States, the Shah used his wealth to purchase capabilities and resources from foreign suppliers, including France, Germany and the United States. Cut off from many of these suppliers after 1979, the Islamic government turned to other sources, including the illegal network run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. During the two periods Iran’s partners changed dramatically, but its nuclear ambitions remained consistent.

This often neglected history brings us to the current moment in relations between the United States and Iran. Years of sanctions and isolation have taken their toll on an Iranian society that struggles to access foreign supplies and technology. Internally, citizens have shown frustration with an Islamic regime that is unable to deliver an improved standard of living for its growing population. The Arab Spring began in Iran in 2009 with street protests against an election stolen by the Islamic leaders. In 2013, Iranians elected a foreign-educated president who promised reforms and an opening to the West, despite the continued domination of religious mullahs in the country’s politics.

The United States remains firmly committed to both the denuclearization of the Islamic government in Iran and democratic reforms. As it negotiates for these goals, Washington has found itself cooperating, at least informally, with the Iranians on a number of common strategic challenges. In Iraq and Syria, the United States and Iran share a strong interest in defeating the radical Sunni Islamic State. Washington and Tehran have shared intelligence and cooperated on the battlefield. The United States and Iran both support the new Shiite government in Iraq, and they are both training the new Iraqi military. Of course, the two countries are on different sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Iran continues to support Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad; but in the struggle for Middle East stability, Washington and Tehran find themselves frequently working together. 

The current negotiations between the United States and Iran on nuclear non-proliferation and economic sanctions reflect these circumstances. After months of intensive discussions, the two sides seem so close to agreement. Iran needs international trade and Washington is keen to offer that. Washington is determined to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb, and many in Tehran seem to recognize that a nuclear capability is not worth the overwhelming costs. 

What keeps the two sides apart is something other than the details, but a bigger question of trust. Can Washington and Tehran find a way to trust one another? Trust does not come overnight. It requires a sustained relationship, consistent goals and clear expectations. More than anything, it requires the personal outreach of leaders who are willing to put themselves on the line.

After more than 30 years of hostility, relations between the United States and Iran can and will shift when the leaders of these two powerful states commit to work together. Such a commitment will make the details fall into the place and the common interests rise above all else. To insure that outcome, we must maintain our toughness but also reach out. Americans want better relations with Iran, and we must show that, as we also show that we will not tolerate the extremism that brought us to conflict in the first place.   

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.   

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will step up its uranium enrichment program by sharply increasing the number of centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel, a senior official said Wednesday, in direct defiance of Western demands.

The statement by Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, is likely to escalate tensions. The West suspects Iran’s nuclear program could be headed toward weapons production and has imposed punishing sanctions to try to persuade Tehran to stop enrichment.

Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is peaceful and geared toward generating electricity and producing radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

ALI AKBAR DAREINI,Associated Press
 

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s currency has fallen 16 percent in a single day to hit a record low against the U.S. dollar and other foreign currencies in street trading.

Street traders said Monday it reached 34,500 rials to the dollar. On Sunday, it was 29,500 rials.

The collapse of the currency is a sign of the impact of Western sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program.

The West suspects Iran is aiming to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

The fall came despite the country’s inauguration last week of a new hard currency trading center to undercut the black market.

ISTANBUL — In a show of unity, Iran and the world’s big powers on Saturday hailed their first nuclear meeting in more than a year as a key step toward further negotiations meant to ease international fears over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The one concrete reflection of progress was an agreement to meet again on May 23 in Baghdad, a venue put forward by Iran.

But huge hurdles still lie in the way of a common understanding of what Iran should do to end suspicions of its nuclear activities. Those barriers may prove insurmountable considering the differences between Tehran and the six nations trying to persuade it to compromise on its nuclear efforts.

But the United States and other countries accuse Iran of repeatedly violating the treaty, and Tehran continues to expand enrichment despite four sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions and other penalties imposed by the U.S., Europe and others.

The talks in Istanbul on Saturday saw the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany sitting at the same table with Iran. Knowing the road ahead is tough, both sides focused on what they said was the positive tone of the talks, in contrast to the previous round 14 months ago.

That last session broke up with no progress after Iranian negotiators refused to even consider discussing enrichment.

Beyond the bite of sanctions, Iran is under threat of Israeli and possibly U.S. military attack unless it makes headway in persuading the international community it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s envoys are heading for nuclear talks with confidence that the chips are falling their way.

It could be dismissed as just political theatrics for the world powers that Iran will face in Istanbul on Saturday. After all, Iran has some serious matters on its plate: Tightening economic sanctions, near blacklist status from international banking networks and the threat that Israel or the U.S. could eventually opt for a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear program.

But think like the Iranian leadership. The baseline objective is to keep the centrifuges spinning in its uranium enrichment sites. That now seems within reach — and the Islamic Republic could even try to leverage a few concessions from the West along the way.

That’s because Iran has been very busy since the last attempts at negotiations nosedived more than a year ago with the same group: The five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, France, China, Russia and Britain — plus Germany.

Iran is now churning out uranium at 20 percent enrichment at a regular pace. That level — compared to the 3.5 percent needed for Iran’s lone Russian-built energy reactor — is necessary to make isotopes for cancer treatment and other medical and research applications. But the U.S. and allies fear that higher-level enrichment puts Iran significantly closer toward possibly making weapons-grade material — a goal that Iran repeatedly claims is not on its agenda.

Yet the 20 percent material offers other opportunities for Iran.

It could agree — without any direct pain to its nuclear program — to Western demands to suspend the 20 percent production as an act of good faith that Iran would want reciprocated. Tehran could then ask ‘how about easing some of the sanctions?’

Iran also has started operations at a second enrichment site, buried deep into a mountainside south of Tehran to protect against air attacks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the new facility, known as Fordo, must be closed and on Thursday she called on Iran use the Istanbul talks to credibly address concern about its nuclear program.

Again, Iran could entertain the idea of closing Fordo without any real setbacks to its overall uranium enrichment. The far bigger labs at Natanz, in central Iran, provide almost all of Iran’s nuclear fuel.

Other demands and counterproposals are likely to be raised in Istanbul. They include what to do about Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and access for future inspections by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency.

But what’s not there is perhaps the most significant. The West — at least at this stage — no longer calls for an all-out halt to uranium enrichment as it did last year.

If this path stays, Iran can boast about outmaneuvering the Western demands and keeping the heart of the nuclear program intact. The U.S. and others will then have to sell this outcome to the Israelis. The pitch is that trying to whittle down Iran’s enrichment capabilities and stockpiles — coupled perhaps with stricter inspections — is a more prudent route than launching attacks and possibly opening up another Middle East war.

“We’re not going to prejudge these talks before they start, but the context going in is important,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Vietor said the rest of the world is more united than ever in opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb, and noted that Iran is facing the toughest sanctions yet as a consequence of its nuclear program.

Some advance lobbying may already be under way. In an interview aired Sunday by CNN, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to focus on gaining outside control of the uranium stockpiles rather than trying to push Iran to give up its ability to make nuclear fuel — something that Iranian officials have said is nonnegotiable.

Uranium enrichment, in fact, has been wrapped tightly around the powerful themes of patriotism, scientific achievements and international justice by Iran’s leadership.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called it the “locomotive” for all other high-profile programs, such as Iran’s aerospace and biotech efforts. Enrichment is permitted under the U.N.’s treaty overseeing the spread of nuclear technology and the West’s attempts to shut it down brought a predictable outcry over perceived bullying.

It’s never said directly in Iran, but two scenarios are always background noise in Iran’s nuclear considerations.

Libya is the cautionary tale. Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to abandon his nuclear program is seen as weakening his bargaining power and opening his regime to NATO attacks and its eventual downfall last year. Pakistan tells another story to the Iranian leaders. Its development of nuclear arms is seen as sharply boosting Islamabad’s international standing and respect.

During a ceremony in February to put the first domestically made fuel rod’s in Tehran’s research reactor, Ahmadinejad spoke on national television next to photos of five nuclear scientists and researchers killed since 2010 as part of a suspected shadow war with Israel. Iranians also are linked to recent attacks and plots against Israeli officials and others in Bangkok, New Delhi and elsewhere.

Although Ahmadinejad does much of the political grandstanding for Iran’s nuclear program, he has little to say about any potential deals with world powers. Those big decisions rest with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei has two main talking points recently: Repeating that Iran will never consider giving up uranium enrichment, but claiming there is no intention to seek nuclear arms — even calling them against Islamic principles.

Khamenei has ever been much for bold policy gestures or initiatives toward the West, preferring to stick closely to Iran’s narrative that Western culture is morally bankrupt and on the decline. But he’s also not seen as inflexible.

The signals from the top in Iran in recent days appear to acknowledge that some movement is needed on the nuclear impasse. But if Iran has its way, the talks will be drawn out and incremental. This week in Istanbul is likely just the opening bid.

Iran is already proposing the venue for round two: Baghdad.

___

Murphy is the Associated Press chief of bureau in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and has covered Iranian affairs for more than 12 years.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, delivers a speech during his meeting with members of Experts Assembly in Tehran on Thursday. He welcomed President Barack Obama’s comments advocating diplomacy and not war as a solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

VIENNA — Three days of protracted negotiations held under the specter of war highlighted the diplomatic difficulties ahead for nations intent on ensuring that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.

In a statement Thursday that was less than dramatic, six world powers avoided any bitter criticism of Iran and said diplomacy — not war — is the best way forward.

The cautious wording that emerged from a weeklong meeting of the U.N. nuclear agency reflected more than a decision to tamp down the rhetoric after a steady drumbeat of warnings from Israel that the time was approaching for possible attacks on Iran to disrupt its nuclear program.

Indeed, the language was substantially milder than the tough approach sought by Washington and allies Britain, France and Germany at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board meeting. Agreement came only after tough negotiations with Russia and China.

That could spell trouble on any diplomatic path ahead.

Russia, China and the four Western nations have agreed to meet with Iran in another effort to seek a negotiated solution. But with East-West disagreements within the group greater than ever, it could be difficult for the six to act in coordination.

A previous series of talks between the six and Iran ended in failure, the last one more than a year ago in Istanbul, Turkey. But the issue of six-power unity was never tested during those talks, because Tehran refused even to consider discussing concessions on its nuclear program.

That could change as Russian and Chinese irritation grows with what the two consider unwarranted tough and unilateral sanctions recently imposed on Iran by Washington and the European Union. Tehran might try to exploit the rift by offering a compromise that Moscow and Beijing would likely welcome but the West would proclaim meaningless.

Thursday’s statement indicated that the West was willing to go some ways to maintain at least a semblance of six-power unity.

It refrained from calling out the Islamic Republic for refusing to cooperate with the IAEA’s probe of allegations that it secretly worked on components of a nuclear arms program.

Instead it put the onus both on Iran and the IAEA to “intensify their dialogue” to resolve the four-year standoff. And indirectly countering weeks of Israeli saber-rattling, it emphasized “continued support for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Returning to Jerusalem from intensive talks in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will not allow Iran to obtain atomic bombs but prefers a peaceful solution to the issue

“I hope that Iran chooses to part from its nuclear program peacefully,” Netanyahu said, adding, “It is forbidden to let Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, and I intend not to allow it.”

Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran is on a path that could eventually lead to the production of a nuclear weapon, but part ways over urgency: Netanyahu has seemed impatient with President Barack Obama’s statements that tough new economic sanctions imposed by the West be given time to work.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, condemned Israel’s “continuous threat of attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

In Tehran, Iran’s top leader welcomed comments by Obama advocating diplomacy as a solution in a rare positive signal from the head of a nation that regards Washington as its bitter foe.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Obama’s statement this week that he saw a “window of opportunity” to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, told a group of clerics: “This expression is a good word. This is a wise remark indicating taking distance from illusion.”

But Khamenei had criticism for Obama as well. The Iranian leader said the economic sanctions pushed by the U.S. and other nations as a way to get Iran to alter its nuclear program would “lead their calculations to failure.”

Asked about Khamenei’s remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “The president’s policy toward Iran is focused in a very clear-eyed way on Iranian behavior, certainly not on rhetoric of any kind.”

Ahead of the Vienna meeting, Washington and its European partners had hoped to send a firmer signal to Iran than even a tough joint statement would have.

They had sought a six-power resolution demanding compliance with U.N. Security Council demands for Tehran to end uranium enrichment and other programs that could be used for weapons purposes. A resolution passed by the IAEA board automatically goes to the Security Council and could serve as a potential springboard for new U.N. sanctions.

Instead, it took three days of horse trading — and a one-day adjournment Wednesday of the IAEA meeting — to agree on the watered-down text.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated that the United States continues “to believe that we have space for diplomacy ... coupled with very strong pressure in the form of the toughest sanctions the international community has ever imposed.”

U.S. chief IAEA delegate Robert Wood said the six nations arrived at “a very good statement after some constructive discussions.” But freed of the constraints of unity imposed on the group of six, his statement to the board reflected a much tougher line.

“While we remain committed to a diplomatic resolution to the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program ... we will not sit idle while a member state openly flouts its obligations and embarks on a path of deception and deceit,” he said.

Iran has steadfastly rejected demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program by providing the fissile core of nuclear weapons. Tehran claims it seeks only energy and medical research from its reactors, but it wants full control over the nuclear process from uranium ore to fuel rods.

It has also stonewalled an IAEA probe of suspected clandestine research and development into nuclear weapons for four years, dismissing the allegations as based on forged intelligence from the United States and Israel.

In a possible concession Tuesday, Tehran said agency experts could visit Parchin, a military facility that the IAEA suspects was used for secret atomic weapons work. An IAEA official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue, dismissed the offer as a stalling tactic. IAEA inspectors were refused access to Parchin twice in recent weeks.

Concerns about Parchin are high. All Western statements, as well as the one issued Thursday by the six powers, have called on Iran to grant access to the facility.

Diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday said Iran was trying to clean up the site. They based their assessment on satellite images they said appeared to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles.

Two diplomats said their information reveals that Iran had experimented at the site with a test version of a neutron trigger used to set off a nuclear blast — information not previously made public.Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian chief delegate to the IAEA, described earlier diplomats’ reports of a test version of a neutron trigger as “a ridiculous and childish story.”

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader has ordered the creation of an Internet oversight agency that includes top military and political figures in the country’s boldest attempt to control the web.

Wednesday’s announcement on the state media follows a series of high-profile crackdowns on cyberspace including efforts to block opposition sites and setting up special teams for what Iran calls its “soft war” against the West and allies.
Iran has blamed Israel for a computer virus discovered in 2010 that targeted uranium enrichment equipment.

The order by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave no specifics on the new group. But it includes powerful figures in the security establishment such as the intelligence minister and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

VIENNA — Satellite images of an Iranian military facility appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, indicating an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger, diplomats told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The assertions from the diplomats, all nuclear experts accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, could add to pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.

While the U.S. and the EU are backing a sanctions-heavy approach, Israel has warned that it may resort to a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent it from obtaining atomic weapons.

Two of the diplomats said the crews at the Parchin military site may be trying to erase evidence of tests of a neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion. A third diplomat could not confirm that but said attempts to trigger a so-called neutron initiator could only be in the context of trying to develop nuclear arms.

In a November report, an IAEA report said Parchin appeared to be the site of experiments with explosives meant to initiate a nuclear chain reaction.

It did not mention a neutron initiator, but a separate section said Iran may have experimented with a neutron initiator. In contrast, the intelligence information shared with the AP by the two diplomats linked the high-explosives work to setting off a neutron initiator.

The November report said that “if placed in the center of a nuclear core of an implosion-type nuclear device and compressed, [a neutron initiator] could produce a burst of neutrons suitable for initiating a fission chain reaction.”

U.S. intelligence officials say they generally stand by a 2007 intelligence assessment that asserts Iran stopped comprehensive secret work on developing nuclear arms in 2003. But Britain, France, Germany, Israel and other U.S. allies think such activities have continued past that date, a view shared by the IAEA. Asked for comment, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, told the AP he would not discuss any nuclear issues until after he delivered his statement to the agency’s 35-nation board meeting Thursday. IAEA officials also said they could not comment. Attention most recently focused on Parchin several days ago, when senior IAEA officials spoke of unexplained activities without saying what they could be and said an inspection of buildings there was taking on added urgency.

They declined to go into detail but said radioactive traces could be left by other material. Tehran said that an agreement outlining conditions of an IAEA inspection of Parchin must first be agreed on — a move dismissed by a senior international official as a delaying tactic.

The diplomats and officials spoke ahead of a meeting of the IAEA board Thursday focusing on Iran’s defiance of U.N. Security Council demands to end uranium enrichment.

Officials did not detail the text agreed upon, but the U.S., Britain, France and Germany wanted a joint statement that takes Iran to task for defying U.N. Security Council resolutions and cooperate with an IAEA probe.

A Western diplomat told the AP that Russia and China sought more moderate language.

Printed on Thursday, March 8, 2012 as: Evidence indicates Iran trying to develop nuclear weapons trigger