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Iran nuclear program hangs in the balance

Iranian leaders to decide on nuclear power deal brokered in Vienna.

It may also be a sign that its ongoing confrontation with the West “strains Iran’s already weakened credibility at a time when its domestic legitimacy is also called into question after the contested elections of June,” noted Shahram Chubin, a non-proliferation analyst and author of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Domestically, people are beginning to question whether the nuclear program is not a narrow partisan project intended to strengthen the grip of hardliners at home, marginalize their political opponents and prevent normalization of relations with the international community.”

So important are the negotiations for Iran that the front page of today’s Kayhan newspaper, a staunchly ideological pro-regime publication, reined in its usually bombastic front page headline for a sober announcement in large black type: LATEST NEWS FROM IRAN’S NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS IN VIENNA.

“If they want to make a deal with Iran, France must be removed,” read an analysis on the IRNA state news agency. “No country has as poor [a] past as France when it comes to securing Iran’s nuclear fuel needs,” it added, noting that in 1974 Iran purchased 10 percent of the shares of EURODIF, a French-based consortium producing nuclear materials as part of an early effort by the Shah to enter the nuclear market. In 2006, the French government angered Tehran by freezing its share.

Two new polls found Americans skeptical that diplomacy with Iran will succeed and favoring military action to settle the issue. A Pew Research poll indicated 61 percent of Americans support a military strike while a CNN poll put the number at 54 percent. Almost nine in 10 Americans believe Iran ultimately seeks a nuclear weapon. “There has been a media consensus that Iran is building nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian nuclear program,” said Ahmad Sadri, a chair of Islamic World Studies at Lake Forest College and newspaper columnist. “I expect this kind of baseless vilification of Iran to continue in the short run unabated [and] this could have negative consequences for the foreign policy of the U.S. and the interests of Iranians in general.”

Tehran is still feeling the after-effects of the disappearance of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri who allegedly defected while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. According to French publication Intelligence Online, a German businessman acting as a liaison for the CIA made final arrangements last year for Amiri’s exfiltration in Vienna , site of the current talks. Amiri was there as an advisor to the Iranian representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

Soltanieh described Wedenesday's talks with the U.S. as “constructive and successful.” A faithful member of the regime, he was entrusted with holding talks last month with a representative of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission in a secret meeting at Cairo’s Four Seasons hotel, according to Haaretz. Also participating in the taboo-breaking official contact between Iranian and Israeli officials were Arab League, American and European representatives.