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Tensions Ease Over Iran’s Nuclear Program as Diplomacy Ramps Up

  • Meredith Buel

Western negotiators are preparing for the next round of talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program later this month in Baghdad. Predictions of war seem, at least for now, to be replaced by a focus on diplomacy.

Earlier this year, threats of armed conflict rumbled across the Middle East.

Iran launched war games near the Persian Gulf.

Israeli warplanes conducted drills to ready for attack.

And a battle-ready U.S. aircraft carrier cruised off the coast of Iran.

Analysts say the show on both sides was largely posturing as the West continued to pursue a tougher sanctions policy against Iran.

“So if you don’t want to see war you have to comply with this new regime of sanctions, and actually they did to a large extent,” said Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute.

Then the rhetoric cooled considerably after a meeting in Istanbul last month when Iranian negotiators appeared more flexible than expected.

“If the talks in Istanbul can be called one step forward, I’m sure, God willing, we will take a few steps forward in Baghdad,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Iran is calling on the West to lift sanctions that are crippling its economy, but the West is standing firm.

“We’re going to keep the sanctions in place and the pressure on Iran as they consider what they will bring to the table in Baghdad and we will respond accordingly,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Analysts say any Iranian deal must include face-saving measures that allow Tehran to portray the agreement as a victory.

“Because for Iran, its image in the world, or within Muslim nations, is not less important than its nuclear achievements,” Khalaji said.

Analysts point to a growing divide in Israel over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threat to attack Iran.

"I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defense minister. I really don’t have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings," said Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Israel’s domestic security service.

But Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says such critics ignore the past. “Iranian deception and lies concerning their nuclear program have been on-going and well-documented. Yet parts of the world, including some politically motivated Israeli figures, prefer to bury their heads in the sand,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials say Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, but has not yet made the decision to build a bomb.

But if Tehran's intentions are peaceful as it claims, then it should prove it, says Mehdi Khalaji.

“Iran should show that it is not looking for a nuclear bomb and it is willing to comply with its international commitments and it is able to build confidence with the international community,” he said.

In the next talks in Baghdad, Western nations are expected to seek compromises on Iran’s enrichment program, and the Iran crisis could heat up again if no significant progress is made.

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