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Iran floats restart of nuclear talks, snubs UN

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 8:44 p.m.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran has floated specific dates for reopening talks with the United States and other world powers about its nuclear program. At the same time, Tehran has left United Nations nuclear inspectors empty-handed when it comes to addressing Western suspicions that it's conducting tests related to nuclear weapons.

Iran's split personality has complicated calculations by Washington and allies on whether to head back into negotiations more than six months after the last round ended in stalemate. It also offers insight into Tehran's strategy as Western sanctions press harder on the economy, experts say.

Iranian leaders know the only route to ease the economic pressures — and possibly undercut threats of military action by Israel — is through potential deal-making with six world powers — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Making gestures to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, would likely bring praise from the West, but it is unlikely to roll back sanctions, which so far have reduced Iran's critical oil exports by 45 percent.

“Tehran ... sees any cooperation with the IAEA as a potential bargaining chip that is better reserved for the talks that really matter,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iranian affairs expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

There still are no clear signals on whether Iran's desire to revive dialogue means a greater willingness to make concessions.

Three rounds of talks last year made no headway on the West's main demand: that Iran halt its highest-level uranium enrichment.

Washington and others worry this level of nuclear fuel, at 20 percent enrichment, could be turned into warhead-grade material much faster than the 3.5 percent enriched uranium needed for Iran's lone energy-producing reactor.

Iranian envoys appear to favor getting the dialogue restarted at least to keep channels open with Washington. That could gain support from the Obama administration, which favors diplomatic efforts to end the nuclear standoff.

Critics, including Israel's Prime Benjamin Netanyahu, contend Iran is only seeking to drag out negotiations while it expands its stockpile of enriched uranium.

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