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“I am not convinced that we are in an inexorable drive toward a conflict,” Mr. Katzman added. “It could be headed off by diplomacy.”

Iran, which has called for Israel’s destruction, has lost a partner in the region: Senior Hamas leader Salah Bardawil said Tuesday in an interview with the Guardian, a British newspaper, that his Islamist militant group would not take part in an Israeli-Iranian conflict.

The newspaper also quoted another Hamas official as saying that the group, which controls the Gaza Strip, “would not get involved” in a war between Israel and Iran, which has cut off funding to Hamas over the group’s opposition to Tehran’s support for the crackdown in Syria.

Israel has been planning to face rocket attacks from Gaza and from Hezbollah in Lebanon in a war with Iran.

Access and caution

Iran’s enrichment of uranium reportedly has exceeded the limits for civilian uses, prompting suspicions that Tehran’s nuclear program is geared toward producing weapons-grade material.

Consequently, the international community had demanded access to Iran’s Parchin military facility, which is dedicated to research and development of ammunition, rockets and explosives.

“If the Iranians are knowledgeable and careful, the IAEA will find nothing [at Parchin],” said Robert Kelley, a former director of the IAEA. “So IAEA will have to explain why they made this visit a matter of highest priority.”

Bruce MacDonald, a senior adviser for nonproliferation issues at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said, “The question is how much access.”

He noted that Parchin’s explosives “would be a very important component in developing a nuclear device using plutonium, as opposed to highly enriched uranium.”

In announcing the decision to resume talks with Iran, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she hopes Iran will enter into a “sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community’s long-standing concerns on its nuclear program.”

She made the comments in response to a Feb. 14 letter from Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, in which he offered to resume nuclear talks that broke off in January 2011.

The time and venue for the resumed talks have yet to be decided.

Ms. Ashton said confidence-building steps would be the main focus of the initial stage of the process.

“Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty],” she wrote to Mr. Jalili.

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