- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Crippling economic sanctions and tough talk of military strikes on its nuclear sites likely have prodded Iran to resume talks with the international community over its secretive nuclear program.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Britain, Russia, France and China — and Germany, which are collaborating in an effort to persuade Iran to freeze all uranium enrichment, accepted Tehran’s offer Tuesday to restart talks.

Meanwhile, Iran agreed to grant U.N. inspectors access to its Parchin military facility southeast of Tehran, Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

The activity on Iran’s nuclear program comes amid U.S. and EU sanctions against the Islamic regime’s central bank and oil industry, and Israel’s reported mulling of military strikes on Iran’s atomic sites.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suspects Iran has been carrying out nuclear work at the Parchin military facility, despite Iran’s assertions that its nuclear activities are only for peaceful, civilian uses.

Iran prevented U.N. inspectors from visiting Parchin earlier this year. On Tuesday, Tehran said it would require an agreement with the international community to set the guidelines for an inspection, the ISNA report said.

Iran is clearly feeling the pressure from the sanctions and from the escalating rhetoric coming from the region,” said Daniel Brumberg, an associate government professor at Georgetown University.

Increasing pressure

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country, which views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, must have the right to defend itself from Iranian aggression.

“We have waited for diplomacy to work. We have waited for sanctions to work. We cannot afford to wait much longer,” Mr. Netanyahu told the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington late Monday.

At a White House news conference Tuesday, President Obama said he thinks “we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.” He promised to keep applying pressure and reiterating that the U.S. will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

However, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East told a Senate hearing Tuesday that America’s military alone cannot prevent Iran from producing atomic weapons.

“The best we can do is to delay them,” Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Only the Iranian people can stop this program.”

U.S. and European sanctions, a severe EU oil embargo and last week’s parliamentary elections, which showed weakening support for Iran’s president, have contributed to Tehran’s decision to resume nuclear talks, said Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service.

“The Iranians are seeing the same speeches we are, and I think they are becoming convinced that President Obama might, indeed, go forward with some type of military action if they don’t start compromising,” Mr. Katzman said.

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