Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Iranian challenge

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Iran has been striking a conciliatory tone with the United States and other western powers in an effort to resolve a decade-long dispute over its nuclear ambitions.

Punishing sanctions and the prospect of continuing upheaval in the region have apparently persuaded the mullahs who dominate the country's politics it is time for a change in strategy.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, elected in June on a relatively moderate platform, has been exchanging letters with U.S. President Barack Obama in an effort to open a dialogue.

The world would be wise to be suspicious of Iranian leaders bearing gifts, but it would be foolish not to embrace the initiative. Without talks, there is no way to determine if Iran is serious about offering assurances its nuclear-building program is for civilian purposes only.

The International Atomic Energy Association reported two years ago Iran likely had conducted research and experiments since at least 2003 with the aim of developing nuclear weapons. Iran has always denied such ambitions, but few countries, particularly Israel, accept those pleadings of innocence.

Iran says it is willing to negotiate a plan that would reduce the enrichment of uranium to levels that aren't suitable for weapons programs. If true, it would be a good first step in ending the threat of a pre-emptive strike by Israel and the United States.

President Obama has not looked particularly strong on Syria, but Israel is another matter. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jewish state's threats have been taken seriously.

The United States needs to make it clear, too, that its vacillation over Syria should not be interpreted as weakness when it comes to Iran.

So long as Iran is a theocratic state that supports terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, its claims of peaceful intentions should be regarded skeptically, but the stakes are too high not to pursue this slim opening. The Mideast is complicated enough without the addition of nuclear weapons.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2013 A10

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