Islamic Republic of Iran

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Earlier this month, the UT Board of Regents denied President Bill Powers Jr.’s request to make an official statement about Iran’s imprisonment of Omid Kokabee, a UT physics graduate student. The Regents cited a rule in the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Regents that prohibits university personnel from making official statements on behalf of the university that relate to political or controversial issues.

A bright, promising physics student — who was recognized as such by both Iranian and U.S. scientists — Kokabee was arrested and detained in his native Iran in February 2011. After a brief trial, during which the prosecution presented few facts, an Iranian court sentenced Kokabee to 10 years imprisonment for “communicating with a hostile government” and “illegal earnings.”

Kokabee, who completed his undergraduate education in Iran, came to UT in the fall of 2010 to earn a doctoral degree in quantum optics. During his first winter break, Kokabee went to Tehran to visit his family. Iranian authorities arrested him at the airport before he boarded his return flight to America. Kokabee was taken to Evin Prison, in northwestern Iran, where he was put in solitary confinement. During his May 2012 trial, Iranian state-controlled television broadcast eerie footage of Kokabee’s fellow prisoners thanking the Iranian government for arresting them and begging for clemency. Kokabee denied all charges against him.

Worldwide, members of the science community have denounced Kokabee’s arrest and the punishment levied against him. After Kokabee’s trial, the Rector of the University of Oslo, Ole Petter Otterson, sent an open letter to the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking that Kokabee receive a fair trial.

But at UT, the only official response to Kokabee’s unjust circumstances has been silence.

In late June, President Powers attempted to change that. Powers wrote to the Board of Regents, seeking a waiver to the rule that prevents him from speaking out about political or controversial issues in his capacity as university president.

In response, Chancellor of the Board Francisco Cigarroa denied Powers’ request, writing that only the board president or UT system chancellor may comment upon “matters of a political or obviously controversial nature, which represent an official position of the UT system or any institution or department thereof.” The underlying logic of the rule: If other university personnel — Powers ­— take formal, public positions of a political nature, their view may be confused as being the official position of the public institution, according to Anthony de Bruyn, a UT System spokesman. Cigarroa encouraged Powers to reach out to human rights groups on his own. The rule cited by Cigarroa would allow Powers to do this so long as he did not claim to do so in his capacity as president of UT.

With the trial and imprisonment of Omid Kokabee, a physicist’s career and a fellow student’s life has been arbitrarily torn asunder. What makes sense about an official at a university in Oslo being more liberated to speak up against the injustice of Kokabee’s circumstances than the president of Kokabee’s own university? Is the Board of Regents’ rule-following really a nose-thumbing gesture directed at President Powers, who has sparred with the board about separate issues in recent months?

If yes, the Board of Regents has played a card that reflects poorly on it and UT. By effectively silencing UT’s institutional voice about Kokabee, the Board of Regents allows the school to join the side of Kokabee’s captors, courtroom judge and those dominant in the Iranian government who favor silencing political discourse and individual rights.

Historically, university presidents exercising their First Amendment rights have injected more intelligence into all sorts of debates and by doing so, raised the profile of their schools. Nicholas Butler, who served as president of Columbia University in New York from 1902 to 1945, advised American presidents, campaigned for Prohibition, played a significant role in Republican politics and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign against war as an appropriate, diplomatic action. Before he became U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, as president of Princeton University between 1902 and 1910, fought what he thought was a culture of elitism and smallness at the school, and sought to enlarge students’ worldview at the same time as he enlarged the university.

Closer to home, UT had its own champion of the bully pulpit: former university president Homer Price Rainey, who raised his voice for academic freedom.

But the conclusion of Rainey’s tenure left our school with a problematic legacy. In 1944, Rainey defended an English professor’s right to teach John Dos Passos’ novel “USA.” The Board of Regents responded to his outspokenness by firing Rainey. Subsequently, Rainey received national credit for his courage and, according to the UT Faculty Council’s website, became “a symbol for academic freedom on the campus in the decades that followed.” The episode marked UT as a school governed by an intolerant board.

In 2012, times have changed. Nationwide, few university presidents, in between their fundraising obligations, enter political debates with gusto. But nonetheless the Board of Regents should take lessons from its own history and remember that freedom of former university professors to add their voice to the national and international dialogue speaks to everything worth defending in this country and absent in Iran.

UT graduate student faces trial Iran

UT physics graduate student Omid Kokabee  plead not guilty to communicating with a hostile government and receiving illegitimate funds Tuesday at his trial in Iran. Reports relayed to Eugene Chudnovsky, physics professor and member of the American Physics Society, predicted a grim outlook for his trial.

“The lawyer said that he was not very optimistic because the punishments handed down in court today were quite harsh,” Chudnovsky said.

Kokabee was not permitted to defend himself in court other than by written statement.

“According to an email from his lawyer, Kokabee was not even allowed to speak in court,” Chudnovsky said. “He was only allowed to submit answers in writing. After all these months he has not been allowed to talk to his lawyer.”

Chudnovsky said this was the first case of a student being detained for obtaining a United States visa.

“They do have a history of detaining scientists,” Chudnovsky said. “This is the first time a student visa has been considered as associating with a hostile government however. There are many Iranian students who are exactly in the same situation and are scared.”

John Keto, director of the UT physics graduate program said Kokabee’s Iranian classmates now fear going home to Iran.

“Most are now concerned about travel back to Iran, even for a visit,” Keto said.

People in the physics department are working delicately with scientific organizations to help advocate for Kokabee’s release.

“A serious outcry from the US may have been interpreted by the Iranian courts as interference  and evidence confirming the allegations of Omid’s working with the US government.” Keto said.  “This was why for the first four months Omid’s family requested that we keep our knowledge of the situation confidential.”

Panel discussions and events continue to take place in support for Omid Kokabee, the UT physics graduate student who many are saying was unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison in Iran.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology panel discussion took place Thursday to alert the academic community about Kokabee‘s situation. Eugene Chudnovsky, co-chair on the Committee of Concerned Scientists, spoke along with Kamiar and Arash Alaei, two brothers charged in Iran in 2008 for communicating with enemy governments and sentenced to prison. Like Kokabee, the brothers pleaded innocent at their trial.

Chudnovsky said he spoke at the event about what he knew of Kokabee, while the brothers spoke of their experience in Iranian prison.

“People there will spread the word, and they will tell their friends about Kokabee,” Chudnovsky said.

Another event is scheduled at the International Workshop on Nanomagnetism and Superconductivity on July 3 in Coma-Ruga, Spain.

Kokabee was arrested in December 2010 while visiting family in Iran. After being held in prison for 15 months, Kokabee was sentenced to ten years in prison for allegedly conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government. Sources close to Kokabee said he was not given the right to a lawyer and his sentencing took only a few minutes.

Chudnovsky said Kokabee was in high spirits despite being imprisoned, in part thanks to the international support he is gaining. Chudnovsky said Kokabee is still studying physics in prison, and he is tutoring other prisoners in subjects like math, physics, French, Spanish and English.

“I think it will help him to manage all the hardship of the time he has to spend in prison,” Chudnovsky said.

Along with these events, petitions on behalf of Kokabee have continued to circulate the web. The petition from the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists currently has almost 20 signatures while the Committee of Concerned Scientists’ petition has over 135 signatures.

A recent article in The Daily Texan discussed the concern of the fairness of the proceedings in the trial of Omid Kokabee who, when he was a graduate student in the UT Department of Physics, was detained by the Iranian government in Jan., 2011, as he was attempting to return back to UT after a winter break visit to his family in Iran. In May 2012 he was convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for collaboration with enemies of Iran. His trial, which took place simultaneously with more than 10 other defendants, was extremely rapid. Kokabee was the only defendant to not admit guilt and Kokabee did not have access to legal help. As an attempt to obtain a fair trial for Kokabee, a petition directed to the authorities in Iran has been placed online here. I urge Daily Texan readers to support this call for a fair re-trial of Omid Kokabee.

— Herbert L. Berk, Professor, Department of Physics

Updated June 13, 2012 at 7:53 a.m.

Scientists and professors are continuing their efforts to gain international and local support for UT physics graduate student Omid Kokabee, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government.

Kokabee was arrested during winter break in 2010 while visiting family in Iran and was held in prison for 15 months before being charged guilty by an Iranian court and sentenced to 10 years in prison May 13 of this year. Both the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists and the Committee of Concerned Scientists have created petitions to gain the support of students and professors around the world on behalf of Kokabee. Neither the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or the Iranian government have responded to letters from the Committee of Concerned Scientists asking for Kokabee’s release or issued a statement on his case.

UT physics professor Herbert Berk, a member of the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, said Kokabee was not given access to lawyers and was tried along with 10 to 15 other people in a sentencing that was only a few minutes long.

Several of the individuals in that trial were executed, Berk said.

“The Iranian government can be quite arbitrary, and though we respect the fact of the possibility of his guilt he should be allowed to defend himself,” Berk said. “He is not being allowed his rights.”

Berk said the only time Kokabee was officially read his charges was in the final trial, which was only a few minutes long.

“He did not have a chance to mount a real defense,” Berk said.

Sophie Cook, executive director of Committee of Concerned Scientists, said Kokabee’s situation has the potential of making international students not want to return home and discourage students from studying abroad.

“That will be unfortunate from everyone’s point of view, including Iran, which has a very great academic and intellectual heritage,” Cook said. “Science is one world now, so in order to participate people have to be able to travel.”

Cook said the committee believes Kokabee is innocent and that he has reportedly denied his charges multiple times under the intense pressure to confess. Cook said she is not sure why the Iranian government arrested and tried Kokabee.

“It is really very hard to speculate about a regime that is very secretive,” Cook said. “The Iranians don’t really explain their actions, even to their own people. All you can see is somebody goes abroad and that makes them a target for suspicion.”

Thursday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will host a panel discussion about Kokabee’s case featuring brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei, who were charged in 2008 for communicating with enemy governments and sentenced to three years and six years, respectively. After international efforts petitioning for their release, Kamiar was released in December 2010 and Arash in 2011.

Kamiar Alaei said the mental pressures of being in political prison were challenging for him and he suspects it will be difficult for Kokabee as well.

“Being in very high security, having limited access to family, limited access to the restroom and lots of other things makes people suffer a lot,” Kamiar Alaei said. “And even after they get released, it takes them a while to recover.”

He said in order for Kokabee to have a chance of being released, pressure has to be put on the Iranian government.

“The students have to show the passion and the motivation to campaign and to use the networks beyond the University,” Kamiar Alaei said. “At the same time, the distinguished professors have to talk openly about this case.”

Kamiar Alaei said he wants Kokabee to know he is not alone and not forgotten.

“He has higher and bigger networks and families around the world who are thinking about him, who are caring about him and who are passionate about getting the Iranian government to release him,” he said. “We have a very famous Iranian poem that says ‘If you are far from me, as long as you are thinking of me, it’s near that you are with me.’”

ISTANBUL — In a show of unity, Iran and the world’s big powers on Saturday hailed their first nuclear meeting in more than a year as a key step toward further negotiations meant to ease international fears over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The one concrete reflection of progress was an agreement to meet again on May 23 in Baghdad, a venue put forward by Iran.

But huge hurdles still lie in the way of a common understanding of what Iran should do to end suspicions of its nuclear activities. Those barriers may prove insurmountable considering the differences between Tehran and the six nations trying to persuade it to compromise on its nuclear efforts.

But the United States and other countries accuse Iran of repeatedly violating the treaty, and Tehran continues to expand enrichment despite four sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions and other penalties imposed by the U.S., Europe and others.

The talks in Istanbul on Saturday saw the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany sitting at the same table with Iran. Knowing the road ahead is tough, both sides focused on what they said was the positive tone of the talks, in contrast to the previous round 14 months ago.

That last session broke up with no progress after Iranian negotiators refused to even consider discussing enrichment.

Beyond the bite of sanctions, Iran is under threat of Israeli and possibly U.S. military attack unless it makes headway in persuading the international community it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s envoys are heading for nuclear talks with confidence that the chips are falling their way.

It could be dismissed as just political theatrics for the world powers that Iran will face in Istanbul on Saturday. After all, Iran has some serious matters on its plate: Tightening economic sanctions, near blacklist status from international banking networks and the threat that Israel or the U.S. could eventually opt for a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear program.

But think like the Iranian leadership. The baseline objective is to keep the centrifuges spinning in its uranium enrichment sites. That now seems within reach — and the Islamic Republic could even try to leverage a few concessions from the West along the way.

That’s because Iran has been very busy since the last attempts at negotiations nosedived more than a year ago with the same group: The five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, France, China, Russia and Britain — plus Germany.

Iran is now churning out uranium at 20 percent enrichment at a regular pace. That level — compared to the 3.5 percent needed for Iran’s lone Russian-built energy reactor — is necessary to make isotopes for cancer treatment and other medical and research applications. But the U.S. and allies fear that higher-level enrichment puts Iran significantly closer toward possibly making weapons-grade material — a goal that Iran repeatedly claims is not on its agenda.

Yet the 20 percent material offers other opportunities for Iran.

It could agree — without any direct pain to its nuclear program — to Western demands to suspend the 20 percent production as an act of good faith that Iran would want reciprocated. Tehran could then ask ‘how about easing some of the sanctions?’

Iran also has started operations at a second enrichment site, buried deep into a mountainside south of Tehran to protect against air attacks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the new facility, known as Fordo, must be closed and on Thursday she called on Iran use the Istanbul talks to credibly address concern about its nuclear program.

Again, Iran could entertain the idea of closing Fordo without any real setbacks to its overall uranium enrichment. The far bigger labs at Natanz, in central Iran, provide almost all of Iran’s nuclear fuel.

Other demands and counterproposals are likely to be raised in Istanbul. They include what to do about Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and access for future inspections by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency.

But what’s not there is perhaps the most significant. The West — at least at this stage — no longer calls for an all-out halt to uranium enrichment as it did last year.

If this path stays, Iran can boast about outmaneuvering the Western demands and keeping the heart of the nuclear program intact. The U.S. and others will then have to sell this outcome to the Israelis. The pitch is that trying to whittle down Iran’s enrichment capabilities and stockpiles — coupled perhaps with stricter inspections — is a more prudent route than launching attacks and possibly opening up another Middle East war.

“We’re not going to prejudge these talks before they start, but the context going in is important,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Vietor said the rest of the world is more united than ever in opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb, and noted that Iran is facing the toughest sanctions yet as a consequence of its nuclear program.

Some advance lobbying may already be under way. In an interview aired Sunday by CNN, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to focus on gaining outside control of the uranium stockpiles rather than trying to push Iran to give up its ability to make nuclear fuel — something that Iranian officials have said is nonnegotiable.

Uranium enrichment, in fact, has been wrapped tightly around the powerful themes of patriotism, scientific achievements and international justice by Iran’s leadership.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called it the “locomotive” for all other high-profile programs, such as Iran’s aerospace and biotech efforts. Enrichment is permitted under the U.N.’s treaty overseeing the spread of nuclear technology and the West’s attempts to shut it down brought a predictable outcry over perceived bullying.

It’s never said directly in Iran, but two scenarios are always background noise in Iran’s nuclear considerations.

Libya is the cautionary tale. Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to abandon his nuclear program is seen as weakening his bargaining power and opening his regime to NATO attacks and its eventual downfall last year. Pakistan tells another story to the Iranian leaders. Its development of nuclear arms is seen as sharply boosting Islamabad’s international standing and respect.

During a ceremony in February to put the first domestically made fuel rod’s in Tehran’s research reactor, Ahmadinejad spoke on national television next to photos of five nuclear scientists and researchers killed since 2010 as part of a suspected shadow war with Israel. Iranians also are linked to recent attacks and plots against Israeli officials and others in Bangkok, New Delhi and elsewhere.

Although Ahmadinejad does much of the political grandstanding for Iran’s nuclear program, he has little to say about any potential deals with world powers. Those big decisions rest with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei has two main talking points recently: Repeating that Iran will never consider giving up uranium enrichment, but claiming there is no intention to seek nuclear arms — even calling them against Islamic principles.

Khamenei has ever been much for bold policy gestures or initiatives toward the West, preferring to stick closely to Iran’s narrative that Western culture is morally bankrupt and on the decline. But he’s also not seen as inflexible.

The signals from the top in Iran in recent days appear to acknowledge that some movement is needed on the nuclear impasse. But if Iran has its way, the talks will be drawn out and incremental. This week in Istanbul is likely just the opening bid.

Iran is already proposing the venue for round two: Baghdad.


Murphy is the Associated Press chief of bureau in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and has covered Iranian affairs for more than 12 years.

A mock North Korea’s Scud-B missile, center, and other South Korean missiles are displayed at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The leaders of South Korea, the United States and China issued stark warnings Tuesday about the threat of nuclear terrorism during the final day of a nuclear summit that has so far been upstaged by North Korea’s long-range rocket launch plans.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Material that can be used to make nuclear bombs is stored in scores of buildings spread across dozens of countries. If even a fraction of it fell into the hands of terrorists, it could be disastrous.

Nearly 60 world leaders who gathered Tuesday in Seoul for a nuclear security summit agreed to work on securing and accounting for all nuclear material by 2014. But widespread fear lingers about the safety of nuclear material in countries including former Soviet states, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and India.

While the threat of nuclear terrorism is considered lower now than a decade ago, the nightmare scenario of a terrorist exploding a nuclear bomb in a major city isn’t necessarily the far-fetched stuff of movies.

“It would not take much, just a handful or so of these materials, to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people and that’s not an exaggeration, that’s the reality that we face,” President Barack Obama told world leaders at the meeting, a follow-up to a summit he hosted in Washington in 2010.

Building a nuclear weapon isn’t easy, but a bomb similar to the one that obliterated Hiroshima is “very plausibly within the capabilities of a sophisticated terrorist group,” according to Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

There’s an “immense difference between the difficulty of making safe, reliable weapons for use in a missile or combat aircraft and making crude, unsafe, unreliable weapons for delivery by truck,” Bunn said.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based nonproliferation group that tracks the security of world nuclear stockpiles, said in a January report that 32 countries have weapons-usable nuclear materials. Some countries, such as the United States, maintain strict controls already. However others, including Russia and other former Soviet republics, have struggled to secure their stocks, raising fears of “loose nukes” falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

It’s unclear how nations will enforce the summit’s goal of securing nuclear material by 2014. The International Atomic Energy Agency shares best practices for securing nuclear material, but the U.N. body has no power to enforce its recommendations.

Some countries on the NTI list are a concern because of their government’s ties with militant groups or because of corruption among their officials. Others simply don’t yet have good safety practices.

Although Pakistan’s small stockpiles of nuclear material are heavily guarded, it is believed to be prone to corruption by officials who may have sympathies to hard-line Islamic militants, Bunn said.

Despite New Delhi’s insistence that its nuclear materials are secure, the NTI ranked India among the top five nuclear security risks, saying the government needs more transparency, more independence for its nuclear regulator and tighter measures to protect nuclear material in transit.

India’s lax security was displayed in at least two incidents in recent years in which radioactive materials — from a hospital and a university laboratory — were discarded and later ended up in a scrap dealer’s shop.

Other recent nuclear scares include a suspected attempt by a crime syndicate in the eastern European country of Moldova to sell weapons-grade uranium to buyers in North Africa. Officials in the country told The Associated Press that 2.2 pounds of highly enriched uranium remains in criminal hands and is probably in another country.The investigation provided fresh evidence of a black market in nuclear material probably taken from poorly secured Soviet stockpiles.

Russia has dramatically improved its nuclear security over the last 15 years, Bunn said, but it has the “world’s largest stockpiles in the world’s largest number of buildings and bunkers” as well as corruption and a weak security culture and regulations.

North Korea and Iran are viewed with worry because of fears of nuclear proliferation.

But Bunn said both are “likely small parts of the nuclear terrorism problem.”

“North Korea has only a few bombs’ worth of plutonium in a tightly controlled garrison state,” he said. “Iran has not begun to produce weapons-usable material.”

At least four terror groups, including al-Qaida and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, have expressed a determination to obtain a nuclear weapon, said Kenneth Luongo, co-chair of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a Washington-based coalition of nuclear security experts.

Nuclear materials stored at research facilities are generally considered less secure than weapons at military installations, Luongo said. Last year’s meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant also shows how terrorists could launch a radiation hazard simply by sabotaging a facility’s functions.

While some groups could develop crude missiles or other delivery systems, unconventional weapons such as a single briefcase containing plutonium and a detonator may be an even bigger threat, said Chang Soon-heung, a nuclear expert at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and technology.

Nuclear security experts say greater political commitment is needed to drive efforts to secure radioactive materials and overcome barriers to international cooperation.

While experts praised this week’s nuclear summit as a sign of progress, some doubted whether countries would meet the 2014 deadline for securing the world’s loose nuclear material, defined generally as completed weapons, bomb material, or the skills to build them.

“There needs to be more political leadership from the top, and countries need to stop talking about what they’re doing individually and acknowledge that this is a cross-border international issue,” Luongo said.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, delivers a speech during his meeting with members of Experts Assembly in Tehran on Thursday. He welcomed President Barack Obama’s comments advocating diplomacy and not war as a solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

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 Thursday 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 U.N. 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.

That could spell trouble on any diplomatic path ahead.

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.

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.

That could change as Russian and Chinese irritation grows with what the two consider unwarranted tough and unilateral sanctions recently imposed on Iran by Washington and the European Union. Tehran might try to exploit the rift by offering a compromise that Moscow and Beijing would likely welcome but the West would proclaim meaningless.

Thursday’s statement indicated that 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.”

Returning to Jerusalem from intensive talks in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will not allow Iran to obtain atomic bombs but prefers a peaceful solution to the issue

“I hope that Iran chooses to part from its nuclear program peacefully,” Netanyahu said, adding, “It is forbidden to let Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, and I intend not to allow it.”

Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran is on a path that could eventually lead to the production of a nuclear weapon, but part ways over urgency: Netanyahu has seemed impatient with President Barack Obama’s statements that tough new economic sanctions imposed by the West be given time to work.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, condemned Israel’s “continuous threat of attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

In Tehran, Iran’s top leader welcomed comments by Obama advocating diplomacy as a solution in a rare positive signal from the head of a nation that regards Washington as its bitter foe.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Obama’s statement this week that he saw a “window of opportunity” to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, told a group of clerics: “This expression is a good word. This is a wise remark indicating taking distance from illusion.”

But Khamenei had criticism for Obama as well. The Iranian leader said the economic sanctions pushed by the U.S. and other nations as a way to get Iran to alter its nuclear program would “lead their calculations to failure.”

Asked about Khamenei’s remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “The president’s policy toward Iran is focused in a very clear-eyed way on Iranian behavior, certainly not on rhetoric of any kind.”

Ahead of the Vienna meeting, Washington and its European partners had hoped to send a firmer signal to Iran than even a tough joint statement would have.

They had sought a six-power resolution demanding compliance with U.N. Security Council demands for Tehran to end uranium enrichment and other programs that could be used for weapons purposes. A resolution passed by the IAEA board automatically goes to the Security Council and could serve as a potential springboard for new U.N. sanctions.

Instead, it took three days of horse trading — and a one-day adjournment Wednesday of the IAEA meeting — to agree on the watered-down text.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated that the United States continues “to believe that we have space for diplomacy ... coupled with very strong pressure in the form of the toughest sanctions the international community has ever imposed.”

U.S. chief IAEA delegate Robert Wood said the six nations arrived at “a very good statement after some constructive discussions.” But freed of the constraints of unity imposed on the group of six, his statement to the board reflected a much tougher line.

“While we remain committed to a diplomatic resolution to the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program ... we will not sit idle while a member state openly flouts its obligations and embarks on a path of deception and deceit,” he said.

Iran has steadfastly rejected demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program by providing the fissile core of nuclear weapons. Tehran claims it seeks only energy and medical research from its reactors, but it wants full control over the nuclear process from uranium ore to fuel rods.

It has also stonewalled an IAEA probe of suspected clandestine research and development into nuclear weapons for four years, dismissing the allegations as based on forged intelligence from the United States and Israel.

In a possible concession Tuesday, Tehran said agency experts could visit Parchin, a military facility that the IAEA suspects was used for secret atomic weapons work. An IAEA official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue, dismissed the offer as a stalling tactic. IAEA inspectors were refused access to Parchin twice in recent weeks.

Concerns about Parchin are high. All Western statements, as well as the one issued Thursday by the six powers, have called on Iran to grant access to the facility.

Diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday said Iran was trying to clean up the site. They based their assessment on satellite images they said appeared to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles.

Two diplomats said their information reveals that Iran had experimented at the site with a test version of a neutron trigger used to set off a nuclear blast — information not previously made public.Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian chief delegate to the IAEA, described earlier diplomats’ reports of a test version of a neutron trigger as “a ridiculous and childish story.”

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader has ordered the creation of an Internet oversight agency that includes top military and political figures in the country’s boldest attempt to control the web.

Wednesday’s announcement on the state media follows a series of high-profile crackdowns on cyberspace including efforts to block opposition sites and setting up special teams for what Iran calls its “soft war” against the West and allies.
Iran has blamed Israel for a computer virus discovered in 2010 that targeted uranium enrichment equipment.

The order by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave no specifics on the new group. But it includes powerful figures in the security establishment such as the intelligence minister and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.