Burton Richter told the sponsors of his recent eight-day visit to Iran that he wasn’t going to go there just to talk about particle physics. The retired director of SLAC insisted that the topics to be discussed include energy, specifically nuclear energy.

But the Nobel laureate had no inkling that he would spend an hour with Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, one of Iran’s vice presidents and its top atomic energy official. The Iranian official, Richter said, “clearly was sending a message” for him to pass along to the US authorities: Iran will consider suspending its uranium enrichment program, but only as part of negotiations covering other issues of “mutual interest,” including resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stabilizing Iraq and other strife-torn Middle East nations, and countering illegal drug exports from Afghanistan.

“My interpretation is that they think that we want some things from them, but they want some things from us,” said Richter,...

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