Iran's Nuclear Genie

Facing an Oct. 31 deadline from the international community and a veiled threat from Israel, Iran's ruling Muslim clerics Tuesday announced they would - for an "interim period" - suspend a program aimed at bomb-grade nuclear enrichment and allow spot checks of their nuclear facilities.

If true to their word, the clerics' concessions would be a diplomatic victory for the United States and three of its allies, Britain, Germany, and France, in heading off another potential crisis in the Middle East.

The effort also shows the Bush administration's flexibility in supporting diplomacy over the use of preemptive attacks against nations identified as backers of terrorism. Iran's apparent shift gives hope to a similar multilateral effort in the Far East to force North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions.

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Suspicions will still be high in Washington and Israel that Iran may hide a nuclear-weapons program. But for now, it seems that Iran's eagerness to bring its economy and people into the international community helped push a vigorous internal debate toward meeting the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran faced possible UN economic sanctions if it didn't meet an IAEA demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment or sign an agreement for expanded inspections. Israel, too, leaked hints that it was ready to strike the Iranian facilities much as it hit Iraq's nuclear plant in 1981.

Iran hasn't been very clear about its nuclear intentions, but it reserves the right to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent. The IAEA, however, caught it cheating on existing protocols, which led to the crisis. At the least, Iran's comedown might reopen a needed dialogue with the US and push Iran to support US efforts in Iraq.

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