Image: Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of IAEA, talks to journalists at the airport in Vienna
Herwig Prammer  /  Reuters
Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency who headed the six-member IAEA mission, indicated that there had been some progress on the team's quest to wrest information from Iran about allegations that it is secretly working on an atomic arms program.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/1/2012 7:51:29 AM ET 2012-02-01T12:51:29

The leader of a United Nations nuclear inspection team said Wednesday that their visit to Iran had been a "good trip," and announced plans to revisit Tehran "in the very near future."

The remarks by mission leader Herman Nackaerts indicated some progress on the team's quest to wrest information from Iran about allegations that it is secretly working on an atomic arms program.

Tehran says its nuclear activities are for peaceful electricity production and to make medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

Amid the rising tension, a report by a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) task force of Democrats, Republicans and independents said the United States should deploy ships, step up covert activities and sharpen its rhetoric to make more credible the threat of a U.S. military strike to stop Iran's nuclear program.

Video: US official: Iran now ‘more willing’ to attack US (on this page)

Former U.S. politicians, generals and officials said in the report that the best chance of stopping Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons was to make clear American willingness to use force, although it stopped short of advocating military action.

The report is to be formally issued on Wednesday and comes amid speculation about the possibility of an Israeli military strike against Iran.

Nackaerts' comments were made shortly after his team landed at Vienna airport and on the heels of three days of discussions with Iranian officials.

While he gave no details on what the International Atomic Energy Agency experts had achieved, diplomats had said before their departure that their main focus was to break Iranian resistance to talking about the weapons program allegations.

Slideshow: Everyday life in Iran (on this page)

"We had three days of intensive discussions about all our priorities, and we are committed to resolve all the outstanding issues," Nackaerts told reporters. "And the Iranians said they are committed, too.

"But of course there's still a lot of work to be done," he said. "So we have planned another trip in the very near future."

Video: Nuclear inspectors go to Iran (on this page)

Asked if he was satisfied with the talks, Nackaerts, who headed the six-member IAEA mission, said "Yeah, we had a good trip."

Iran: Talks 'constructive'
Iran also said further meetings were planned.

"Talks between Iran and the visiting team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were constructive and ... the two sides agreed to continue the talks," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying on Tuesday.

Western diplomats have often accused Iran of using offers of dialogue as a stalling tactic while it presses ahead with its nuclear program, and say they doubt whether Tehran will show the kind of concrete cooperation the IAEA wants.

Story: Nuclear Iran could deter military action, Israel says

Iran has refused to discuss the alleged weapons experiments for more than three years, saying they are based on "fabricated documents" provided by a "few arrogant countries" — a phrase authorities in Iran often use to refer to the United States and its allies.

Tehran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions because of its refusal to heed international concerns about its nuclear programs, as well as penalties imposed by the United States and Western nations meant to force it into dialogue.

There is little evidence to suggest that U.S. President Barack Obama has any significant interest in the possibility of a military strike against Iran, though his administration has repeatedly said that all options are on the table.

Story: Iran upbeat on nuclear visit, delays move to cut EU oil

The idea of a U.S. attack was advocated by former Pentagon defense planner Matthew Kroenig in his recent Foreign Affairs Magazine article, "Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option."

The BPC report's central thesis is that to persuade Iran to address questions about its nuclear program via negotiations, economic sanctions must be accompanied by a credible threat of military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, according to Reuters.  

"The United States needs to make clear that Iran faces a choice: it can either abandon its nuclear program through a negotiated arrangement or have its program destroyed militarily by the United States or Israel," said the report, entitled "Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock."

Story: Iran tests missile that could hit US bases, Israel

The BPC is a nonprofit policy group founded by prominent Republicans and Democrats that seeks to promote policy-making that can draw support from both major U.S. political parties.

Among its specific recommendations, the report calls for:

  • strengthening the United States "declaratory policy" to make clear its willingness to use force rather than permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons;
  • intensifying covert activities by U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies to disrupt Iran's nuclear program;
  • bolstering the presence of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman by deploying an additional carrier battle group and minesweepers off Iran, conducting broad military exercises in the region with allies, and prepositioning supplies for the possibility of military action against Iran;
  • strengthening the ability of U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, to ship oil out of the region without using the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to close in retaliation for Western sanctions;
  • and amplifying U.S. efforts to strengthen the militaries of countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates through arms sales.

Should these steps fail to dissuade Iran from its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, the report urges the United States to consider a "quarantine" to block refined petroleum imports by Iran, which is heavily dependent on gasoline refined abroad.

Story: US denies killing Iran scientist with magnetic bomb

As a last resort, the group asserts that the U.S. military has the ability to launch "an effective surgical strike against Iran's nuclear program."

The report acknowledged a strike would carry many risks, including higher oil prices, possible Iranian retaliation against U.S. military installations, support of "terrorist" operations against U.S. interests and potential attacks on Iraq.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: US official: Iran now ‘more willing’ to attack US

  1. Closed captioning of: US official: Iran now ‘more willing’ to attack US

    >> now more on the report from director of national intelligence that iran could be more willing to attack the u.s. at home and abroad. nbc chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell has details. how alarming is the report from mr. clapper?

    >> it is alarming. this is the newest threat facing the u.s. last summer they first unearthed what they say is a failed plot to go and bomb washington and blow up the saudi ambassador. this is the first time they believe, they concluded that top iranian officials, director clapper said, probably the ayatollah himself have been ready to attack. there have been iranian surrogates like hezbollah attacking but not here on american homeland.

    >> when it comes to israel watching what happens inside iran with the nuclear program they feel the criteria for a preemptive nuclear strike may have been met and they feel the window of opportunity may close quickly between six and nine months. what's the administration saying about that publically and privately?

    >> both publically and privately the u.s. is saying their timeline is longer. the president has been ambiguous about things but says no options were off the table. he said it clearly in the state of the union . but they believe that the window is closing quickly. there is a lot of signalling coming. the top spy was breefg general petraeus at the cia last week and top leaders in both parties seem to believe it needs to be done this year. if the window closes they say it will be no warning and israel will act without the u.s. there's been covert activity killing five iranian nuclear scientists and other computer attacks, cyber attacks against the iranian nuclear program between israel and the u.s. but israel believes covert options are closing.

    >> andrea mitchell in washington. thank you very much.

Photos: Slices of life in Iran

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  1. A student learns how to play a musical instrument at Pishtaz School in Tehran on October 15, 2011. Pishtaz, the first computerised pre-school for gifted students in Iran, claims to have pioneered teaching techniques through the means of IT. Parents can watch their children's daily activities from home via CCTV cameras installed throughout the public areas in the school, which includes the classrooms, playgrounds and hallways. (Raheb Homavandi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Local Baluch fishermen push a boat to the shore at a fishing port in Tiss village in the suburb of the port city of Chabahar, 902 miles southeast of Tehran, near the Strait of Hormuz on January 16, 2012. (Raheb Homavandi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Dog lover Neda plays with the strays at the Vafa animal shelter in the town of Hashtgerd, about 45 miles west of the capital Tehran on June 30, 2011. The first animal shelter in Iran, the non-government charity relies on private donations and volunteers to provide shelter to injured and homeless dogs in Iran. Canine lovers in the Islamic Republic are faced with a motion put forth by lawmakers in the conservative-dominated to ban the public appearance of dogs due to their "uncleanness" and to combat "a blind imitation of vulgar Western culture." If the motion becomes law, first-time offenders will be fined five million rials (472 USD or 337 euros) and will be given a 10-day period to get rid of the dog or face the canine's confiscation to an unknown fate. (Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. University students cross a street during a snow storm in Tehran onNovember 8, 2010. A rare autumn snow blanketed much of northern Iran closing roads and schools in mountainous regions. (Caren Firouz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Iranian women and a man weave carpet in a workshop in Qom, 78 miles south of the capital Tehran. Deep in Tehran's carpet bazaar, the merchants and laborers occupy chambers that have changed little over the centuries. But Iran's carpet industry now faces some modern pressures. The country's more than 1 million weavers _ producing an average of $500 million in exports a year _ are fighting against competitors in major workshops in places such as Pakistan and China. (Vahid Salemi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The hand of a worker at a carpet workshop in Qom. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Coffee mugs bearing pictures of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs are displayed for sale as a man works on a MacBook at a shop in Payetakht (Capital) computer centre in northern Tehran on January 19, 2012. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Actors take part in a re-enactment of the 7th century battle of Kerbala during the "Taziyeh" religious theatre performance on Tasoua, a day before Ashura, in Noushabad, Isfahan province on December 5, 2011. Ashura, the most important day in the Shi'ite Muslim calendar, commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in the 7th century battle of Kerbala. (Raheb Homavandi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Iranian-Christian woman looks at Christmas decorations while shopping in central Tehran on December 13, 2011. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Iranian Jewish men pray during Hanukkah celebrations at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran on Dec. 27, 2011. (Vahid Salemi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A man leaves after shopping at a fruit store in Tehran on January 6, 2012. International sanctions aimed at depriving Iran's nuclear programme of funds and technology are squeezing Tehran's vital oil exports and government finances. In September 2010 the government pushed through cuts in fuel subsidies despite public and parliamentary opposition. Rising utility prices have since forced factories to shut - an estimated 180 in Tehran alone. Prices of basic goods like bread, meat and rice are increasing daily. Meat is too expensive for many, costing $20 a kilo. Iranian opposition websites regularly issue reports of layoffs and strikes by workers who haven't been paid for months, including in government-owned factories. (Raheb Homavandi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A cleric waits for the start of a conference titled "Gaza, a Symbol of Resistance" in Tehran on January 18, 2012. (Caren Firouz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Iranian woman Mahnaz Mollaei, right, teaches rollerblading to a girl at the Pardis club, in the central city of Isfahan, 234 miles south of the capital Tehran, Iran on Jan. 1, 2012. (Vahid Salemi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A woman makes a purchase at a store in Tehran on January 6, 2012. (Raheb Homavandi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A street money exchanger, puts US dollars in a plastic bag, in Ferdowsi St. in downtown Tehran, Iran, Wednesday on Dec. 21, 2011. The rial hit a record low on Wednesday, with the US dollar selling for 16,150 rials in foreign currency exchange offices. The dollar sold for about 10,500 rials last December and in 1979 _ the year an Islamic revolution toppled the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi _ it was 70 rials against the dollar. Iran has restricted cash withdrawals and allows banks to sell only $2,000 per year to each person traveling outside the country. (Vahid Salemi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Shoe repairman, Aziz, 86, works in a street in downtown Tehran in November 2010. The most potent challenge to Iran's ruling system may not be international sanctions or the homegrown political opposition, but something as simple as a shopping list. Islamic leaders are starting to trim an estimated $100 billion a year in government subsidies for fuel and food staples that many low-income Iranians consider a birthright. (Vahid Salemi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A jockey competes during the summer races at the Norouzabad Equestrian center on the outskirts of Tehran on September 16, 2011. (Caren Firouz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Spectators cheer as the horses run during the summer races at the Norouzabad Equestrian center on the outskirts of Tehran on September 16, 2011. Under Islamic sharia law, gambling is generally seen as illegal. But thanks to certain religious rulings, many race-goers are permitted to put money on the horses legally as long as they are "predicting" through official channels. (Caren Firouz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. An unidentified Iranian vendor wait for customer to sell flags of two Iranian giant soccer teams Esteghlal, left, and Persepolis, right, prior to start of their 73rd derby match, during Iran's Jam-e-Hazfi, or Elimination Cup, at the Azadi (Freedom) stadium in Tehran, Iran, on Dec. 9, 2011. Iran's top two soccer teams fought in a quarter final match of the cup and Esteghlal won 3-0. (Vahid Salemi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Ghazaleh Miramini, left, practices guitar with her music teacher Amir Salami at a music school in Tehran on Nov. 3, 2011. In the 1980s, Iran's music almost vanished. Music schools went into full recession, police or militias stopped cars to check what passengers were listening to and broke tapes playing pre-revolutionary singers, and clerical institutions even banned music as un-Islamic. But Iran's social life has dramatically changed a decade later, with a landslide victory of former President Mohammad Khatami with relaxing some of rigid restrictions on cultural and social activities, including bans on music bands, but Iran has tightened censorship of books, films, and music since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power. (Str / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Amin Gholami, right, dances in Azeri-style as Aydin Kanani plays a Gaval, a large-sized tambourine, in the Gharadagh mountainous area in northwestern Iran on Oct. 26, 2011. (Str / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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