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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.