NPR | August 5, 2010
by Mike Shuster

Signals have come from Iran and the U.S. in recent days that suggest a willingness of both nations to return to the negotiating table.

This comes as something of a surprise, given the recent economic sanctions imposed on Iran and hostile public remarks from both sides. Amid talk of defiance and possible military action, Iran and the U.S. may be looking for an opportunity to engage in diplomacy.

Sparring Over Sanctions

For much of the past spring, top U.S. officials were talking about imposing serious sanctions — sanctions that bite. Not long ago, Secretary of State Clinton even talked about imposing crippling sanctions on Iran.

In June, the U.N. Security Council adopted sanctions that were watered down, but then the U.S. and the European Union followed with punitive sanctions that, among other provisions, are putting serious pressure on Iran’s banks.

In Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the sanctions as no more threatening than a used piece of tissue.

But behind the scenes, it appears the Iranians are more concerned than they are letting on, said Nader Hashemi, an Iran expert at the University of Denver.

“Now that sanctions have been passed and both sides are looking to the future, there is a sense that neither side will benefit from perpetuating this cycle of acrimony, tension and conflict,” Hashemi said.

An Olive Branch

A strong signal came last week from the U.S. State Department, where a spokesman said the U.S. is still interested in talking to Iran about a uranium swap deal, first floated last year, but never consummated. The U.S. took this deal off the table, but now it appears there is renewed interest.

That offer surfaced even as the periodic talk about the possibility that the U.S. or Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities spiked upward. And then came a quick positive response from Tehran.

Ahmadinejad sent his own signal, said Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University.

“As soon as the State Department made out that statement, Ahmadinejad went public saying that he welcomed the opportunity to have a televised, man-to-man, I’m quoting him, televised man-to-man conversation with President Obama,” Debashi said. “So something is in the offing.”

Ahmadinejad’s proposed debate came during a public speech covered by Iranian state TV.

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