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“We are going into these discussions with our eyes open,” Ms. Psaki said. “We have put in place the most crippling sanctions — some of the most crippling sanctions in history here, which is why Iran is at the point it’s at.”

“We wouldn’t take any action unless we felt it was warranted and it was proportional,” she said. “But we also have a responsibility to seek diplomatic options when the door opens, and that’s the point we’re at now.”

With Iran signaling a desire to retain some uranium-enrichment capabilities and Israel demanding a halt of enrichment activity, it remains to be seen how the administration will proceed.

Still, many Middle East scholars in Washington were guardedly optimistic about the prospects for a breakthrough.

“I think that a deal can be attained that provides sufficient constraints on the Iranian program and sufficient transparency for the international community and would probably reach Israel’s bottom-line requirements as well,” said Suzanne Maloney, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies Iran, the political economy of the Persian Gulf and Middle East energy policy.

“Whether or not we reach that,” she added, “is very uncertain.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.