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Has the Iranian fist unclenched?

Mark Mardell | 20:55 UK time, Thursday, 1 October 2009

President Obama needs some successes at the moment.

Maybe he has got one. He could argue the first talks between Iran and the US for 30 years have worked, and that the success justifies his call for hostile nations to unclench their fists, and receive the hand of friendship in return.

The talks with Iran, at first blush, seem to justify his decision to "reach out", as Americans would say.

And, he could argue, the Iranians appear to be shifting only because he took care to get the Russians and Chinese on-side first.

The Iranians have agreed to have some of their uranium enriched outside the country by another nuclear power, which could lessen their ability to develop weapons.

The president says more action must follow: the inspectors have to be allowed in to the (now not-so-secret) site near Qom within two weeks. Otherwise, there would be "increased pressure".

And there has to be "swift action" from the Iranians, he said, to prove they are only interested in civil nuclear power. "Talk is no substitute for action," he insisted.

One former insider I have been speaking to tells me that enrichment is a bit of a red herring and what really has to be stopped is "weaponisation".

Iran almost certainly has the scientific ability to make a bomb, he says, but has not taken the political decision. Mr Obama hopes to drive them off this course.

The decision to hold talks was widely derided by critical commentators as a sign of weakness. The trouble with that is that "talks" is where you always end up.

Persuasion leads to talks. Successful sanctions lead to talks. Even military action, in the end, leads to talks.

But it is important that the president sets a pace to undermine any suggestion that he is being strung along.

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