IN HIS state of the union address, devoted largely to domestic issues, US President Barack Obama touched on Iran’s nuclear question. While Obama pledged to do "what is necessary" to prevent Iran from going nuclear, he asked Tehran to realise "it is time for a diplomatic solution". The signals may pave the way for fruitful talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Kazakhstan later this month.

Offers of talks are always preferable to sabre-rattling. Although Iran has consistently denied it is pursuing nuclear weapons, it is difficult to take such statements at face value. But the international community has yet to come up with solid evidence confirming that the Iranians are building the bomb. So perhaps the key here for all of those involved is to tread carefully.

Tehran must be more open about its nuclear programme and allow access to all sites where there may be suspicions that a weapons programme is being pursued. The US and its allies, on the other hand, should loosen the harsh sanctions regime, which is hurting ordinary Iranians the most. This may convince Tehran that the West seeks to negotiate in good faith. Israel should also be restrained, as the irresponsible war talk coming from Tel Aviv only serves to further poison the atmosphere.

Karachi, February 14