Vienna

OpenCalais Metadata: Latitude: 
29.3783004
OpenCalais Metadata: Longitude: 
-96.7924779

The flag of the Republic of Austria

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a summer series of short columns from UT students studying abroad.

VIENNA — Here I am, tapping away on my smart phone screen in an apartment in Vienna, Austria. I’m couch-surfing for the weekend and exploring a new city two hours away by train from my study abroad home base in Salzburg. The wonders of technology give me comfort in being able to share this experience with my fellow Longhorns, no matter where we happen to be. I came to my study abroad program as the only student from UT-Austin this summer, and in truth, single representation provided the freedom to be myself in a crowd of 72 other students from a dozen other universities around
the world. 

Connectedness, as I’m growing to learn, describes the human interaction we covet underneath the business of digital networks and applications. This is the kind of phenomenon we try to explain in the academy I’m attending until mid-August, hosted by the Salzburg Global Seminar. The academy teaches working professionals, educators and students of media, seeking to create positive change in the world through greater understanding of the influence of art, print, radio, television and news across borders. Learning from other perspectives and backgrounds, I find it more and more interesting how face-to-face interaction can augment online correspondence. After researching accommodations just for one evening in Vienna, we got to know a few young people working and studying to be teachers who were kind enough to share their space. Just this evening, we wandered into the Popfest music festival and asked an endless number of Austrians their recommendations for places around Vienna. 

It’s one week into this study abroad experience, and I can already tell that by the time I head home, it will seem as if time hadn’t passed by at all.

Piedad is a journalism junior from San Antonio. Follow Piedad on Twitter @janjourn.

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.”

BEIRUT — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian regime of committing “almost certain” crimes against humanity Thursday as activists reported fresh violence and the arrest of several prominent dissidents, including a U.S.-born blogger.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Ban demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and President Bashar Assad’s opponents.

“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately,” Ban told reporters in Vienna. “Hospitals used as torture centers. Children as young as ten years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity.”

Syrian activists said government forces attacked Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city where the uprising against Assad erupted 11 months ago. They also reported intense clashes between army defectors and government troops in the central province of Hama.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops “committed a new massacre” near the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour, killing 19 people — 11 of them from the same family. The report was impossible to confirm.

The push into Daraa, located near the Jordanian border some 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Damascus, followed sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent.

Also Thursday, the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists, reported the arrest of a several activists, including Razan Ghazzawi, a U.S.-born blogger and press freedom campaigner.

Ghazzawi, who was born in Miami, Florida, was arrested early in the uprising and charged with spreading false information, but she was released after about two weeks.

The LCC said security forces also arrested leading human rights activist Mazen Darwish and others during a raid on their Damascus office. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The LCC said dozens of people were killed throughout the country Thursday.

The Observatory said security forces killed at least one civilian in Daraa, and that clashes between defectors and government troops there left at least three regime soldiers dead.

The deadliest fighting between troops and defectors took place in the village of Kfar Naboudeh in Hama province where government forces killed 10 defectors and four civilians, according to the Observatory. The group said the defectors attacked an army checkpoint near the Hama town of Soran, killing four soldiers.

Death tolls are all but impossible to confirm in Syria, which has banned independent reporting.

The Syrian revolt started in March with mostly peaceful protests against the Assad family dynasty, but the conflict has become far more violent and militarized in recent months as army defectors fight back against government forces.

The U.N. General Assembly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution strongly condemning human rights violations by the Syrian regime and backing an Arab League plan aimed at ending the conflict.

While General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues and supporters are hoping for a high “yes” vote to deliver a strong message to Assad’s regime.

On Wednesday, Assad ordered a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty for 40 years. Such a change would have been unheard of a year ago, and Assad’s regime is touting the new constitution as the centerpiece of reforms aimed at calming Syria’s upheaval.

But after almost a year of bloodshed, with well over 5,400 dead in the regime’s crackdown on protesters and rebels, Assad’s opponents say the referendum and other promises of reform are not enough and that the country’s strongman must go.

Assad’s call for a referendum also raises the question of how a nationwide vote could be held at a time when many areas see daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers.

The U.S. and France dismissed the referendum move as an empty gesture.

“How can he propose a referendum ... while continuing to shoot cannons at the innocent population at the center of some Syrian cities,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told journalists Thursday in Vienna.

He added that France is working at the United Nations on a resolution inspired by the Arab League proposal that calls on Assad to hand power to his vice president.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Assad “knows what he needs to do if he really cares about his people.”

“The violence just needs to come to an end, and he needs to get out of the way so we can have a democratic transition,” she told reporters

In Strasbourg, the speaker of the European Parliament said Assad’s leadership was “completely discredited” and that his proposal to submit a new constitution to a referendum before a nation at war is “inconceivable.”

“The European Parliament wants to see humanitarian corridors to be put into place and shelters provided for the growing numbers of displaced people,” Martin Schulz said. “The parliament urges the EU ... to help strengthening the unity of the Syrian forces which oppose the regime inside and outside the country.”

Russia, a top Syrian ally, has presented Assad’s reform promises as an alternative way to resolve Syria’s bloodshed. Earlier this month, Moscow and Beijing vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed resolution at the U.N. Security Council aimed at pressuring Assad to step down.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun will be in Syria on Friday and Saturday for talks on how to end the violence, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Thursday. Zhai met a Syrian opposition delegation in Beijing last week.

“I believe the message of this visit is that China hopes for a peaceful and proper resolution of the Syrian situation, and that the Chinese side will play a constructive role in the mediation,” Liu said.

On Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported raids and shooting by Syrian troops in Daraa, along with renewed shelling in the rebellious neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs.

Homs has seen one of the deadliest assaults of the crackdown that activists say has killed hundreds in the past two weeks, aimed at crushing a city that has been a stronghold of dissent.