Maja Hitij, AP Photo/dapd
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."
Although Obama's remarks were suffused with American election-year politics — they came the same day as the biggest batch of Republican primaries to choose his opponent in November — he spoke for capitals around the world in warning that "bluster" and posturing to appear tough on Iran could edge the world closer to an avoidable war.
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. On a practical level, the negotiating group also has failed to strike a deal for Iran to stop enriching uranium that might one day be turned into bomb fuel.
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.
Iran has a history of agreeing to talks or other concessions when it feels under threat, and Western leaders have grown skeptical that Iran will bargain in good faith..
Following gatherings in five-star European hotels, Iran often publicly rejects pressure but privately agrees to small compromises. Diplomats return home to consult their presidents and prime ministers, and Iran, the theory goes, presses on with its nuclear development work.
However, 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.
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