VIENNA -- Three days of protracted negotiations held under the specter of war highlighted the diplomatic difficulties ahead for nations intent on ensuring that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.
In a statement yesterday that was less than dramatic, six world powers avoided any bitter criticism of Iran and said diplomacy -- not war -- is the best way forward.
The cautious wording that emerged from a weeklong meeting of the UN nuclear agency reflected more than a decision to tamp down the rhetoric after a steady drumbeat of warnings from Israel that the time was approaching for possible attacks on Iran to disrupt its nuclear program.
Indeed, the language was substantially milder than the tough approach sought by Washington and allies Britain, France and Germany at the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board meeting. Agreement came only after tough negotiations with Russia and China.
Russia, China and the four Western nations have agreed to meet with Iran in another effort to seek a negotiated solution. But with East-West disagreements within the group greater than ever, it could be difficult for the six to act in coordination at those talks.
A previous series of talks between the six and Iran ended in failure, the last one more than a year ago in Istanbul, Turkey. But the issue of six-power unity was never tested during those talks, because Tehran refused even to consider discussing concessions on its nuclear program.
Yesterday's statement indicated the West was willing to go some ways to maintain at least a semblance of six-power unity. It refrained from calling out the Islamic Republic for refusing to cooperate with the IAEA's probe of allegations that it secretly worked on components of a nuclear arms program.
Instead it put the onus both on Iran and the IAEA to "intensify their dialogue" to resolve the four-year standoff. And indirectly countering weeks of Israeli saber-rattling, it emphasized "continued support for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue."
In Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed President Barack Obama's comments advocating diplomacy as a solution in a rare positive signal from the head of a nation that regards Washington as bitter foe. Khamenei, quoted by state television, praised Obama's statement this week that he saw a "window of opportunity" to use diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute.