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November 9, 2012

INTERNATIONAL: Obama’s return a test of evolving foreign policy

(Continued)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — IRAN

Obama has stood by the policy that sanctions and diplomacy are the best course to leverage possible concessions from Iran on its nuclear program, which the West and others fear could eventually lead to atomic weapons. Iran says it seeks reactors for energy and medical research only.

The next major crossroads for the White House could be whether to consider any changes in its negotiating tactics with Tehran after three rounds of failed talks this year between envoys from Iran and world powers. Iranian officials have suggested they would consider scaling back on uranium enrichment — the centerpiece of the stand-off with the West — if some of the economic pressures were eased.

So far, Obama and Western allies have shown no willingness to roll back sanctions as part of a step-by-step process proposed by the Iranians. But Washington has said it would be open to groundbreaking direct talks with Tehran if there were a real chance of nuclear compromises, but that military options remain on the table.

Iran has countered with threats of hardening positions — possibly a reflection of growing unease as sanctions cut into critical oil sales and drive the Iranian currency to record lows. Iranian officials warn they could start boosting uranium enrichment above current top levels unless the West is ready to negotiate on sanctions.

Iran claims the U.S., Israel and allies were responsible for computer viruses such as Stuxnet that caused malfunctions in centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

In turn, some cyber-security experts suggest Iran was behind malware that infiltrated Internet systems at sites such as U.S. banks and the Saudi state oil giant Aramco. Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the U.S. will strike back against a cyberattack, underscoring the Obama administration’s growing concern that Iran could be the first country to unleash cyberterrorism on America.

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