WASHINGTON – Alarmed by rising talk of war, the United States, Europe and other world powers announced Tuesday that bargaining will begin again with Iran over its fiercely disputed nuclear efforts. Tehran, for its part, invited inspectors to see a site suspected of secret atomic weapons work.
In Washington, President Barack Obama declared he had been working to avert war with Iran during intensive meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Israel, fearing the prospect of a nuclear Iran, has been stressing a need for possible military action, but Obama said sanctions and diplomacy were already working.
The president rebuffed Republican critics, who say his reluctance to attack Iran is a sign of weakness, holding up the specter of more dead Americans in another Mideast war.
“When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war,” Obama said. “This is not a game. And there’s nothing casual about it.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany had agreed to a new round of nuclear talks with Iran more than a year after suspending them in frustration.
Previous talks have not resolved international suspicions that Iran is engaging in a nuclear energy program as cover for an eventual plan to build a bomb.
The rush to diplomacy was partly an answer to increasingly hawkish rhetoric from Israel, which is publicly considering a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities this spring. Obama and Western allies say such a strike would be risky and premature, and that there is still time to persuade Iran that it is better off without nuclear weapons.
Iran insists that its program is only for energy production and other peaceful purposes.
In sitting down with Iran, Ashton said negotiators want “constructive dialogue” that will deliver real progress in resolving the international community’s long-standing concerns on its nuclear program.”
The time and venue of the new talks have not been set.
Initially mild economic sanctions on Iran have grown stronger and more difficult for the government to circumvent. The oil-rich country is still able to sell its oil, mostly in Asia, but labors under severe banking restrictions that will get far tougher this summer. Europe also imposed an unprecedented oil embargo on Iran, to take effect in July.
Obama and others said diplomacy and such sanctions should be given more time.
Iran appeared to partially answer concerns Tuesday from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that it has something to hide, by announcing long-sought access to its Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran. The IAEA has singled out the complex, which Iran had long refused to open for inspection.
Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said the onus would “be on Iran to convince the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”
Obama publicly rejected the assertion, heard most loudly from Republicans and Israelis, that the window for diplomacy was closing.
“It is deeply in everybody’s interests – the United States, Israel and the world’s – to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion,” Obama said. “This notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks or month or two months is not borne out by the facts.”