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Iran indicating change of course

There’s some renewed hope that Iran is changing direction on its nuclear ambitions, but the proof will be in the details.

And those details will involve concrete evidence that Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons.

This has been a long-standing concern with a nation whose leaders consider the United States “the Great Satan” and who have spoken fondly of the prospect of a world in which Israel is reduced to smoking ruins. The idea that the hard-line clerics who run Iran would one day have a “red button” to push is an unsettling notion, one that has led to years of sanctions against the nation. Inspections have been agreed to and then refused numerous times, leading to suspicion that Iran has been playing for time to get weapons developed.

But Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has made overtures indicating that the hard stance is softening. There also are indications that the high-level clerics who actually run the country are in agreement on a new course.

So far, it has led to direct discussion by the highest-ranking officials of the United States and Iran in three decades. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a 30-minute private discussion that reports say was not attended by either diplomat’s aides.

On Friday, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency met with officials of that agency. No solution was going to come to this complex issue from a single meeting, but it may lay the groundwork for a later agreement.

The bottom line is that a diplomatic solution, one that enables Iran to take care of its energy needs without acquiring nuclear weapons, is the best course for everyone. And if that’s going to happen, the stars may finally be aligned. In the past, the religious leaders in Iran and its government officials haven’t always been on the same page. If they are finally operating in concert, there is a real chance of progress.

If that progress comes, it may well be because of technology. What separates Iran from North Korea is that Iranians, while they can’t get on Facebook or Twitter, do have access to information from outside their nation. They have a sense of what is happening in the rest of the world and they see that their own lives have been stagnated for a generation from international sanctions. That information stream has to be taken into account by Iranian leaders, who may have finally realized that.

Is a solution to the nuclear weapons standoff with Iran imminent? No. And the United States and its allies should not make concessions on sanctions until Iran makes true movement toward accountability. But for perhaps the first time in three decades, we may actually be at a starting point on this problem. As hard as it has been to get to that starting gate, crossing the finish line will be even tougher. If it results in a safer world, however, the journey will have been worth it.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board