Iran Enters Geneva Nuclear Talks In Defiant Mood

In Geneva on Monday, representatives from the U.S., Europe, Russia and China begin talks with an Iranian envoy about Tehran's suspected nuclear program. It's the first meeting of its kind in more than a year, but hopes for progress are tentative at best.

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For the first time in more than a year, Iran is meeting with representatives of six world powers. They'll discuss Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland. The last time the U.S. and others met Iran on this issue, the negotiators made apparent progress - which quickly fell apart. Since then, the U.S. and its allies have had more than a year to tighten sanctions, but Iran has had more than a year to advance its nuclear program. Now, the country claims it is self-sufficient in producing uranium. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on talks that are likely to be challenging.

PETER KENYON: Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akhbar Salehi, traveled to the central city of Isfahan to announce what he called the first delivery of domestically produced uranium ore concentrate, a substance known as yellowcake, which is used in the enrichment of uranium. Salehi told Iran's Press TV that the use of its own uranium marks a milestone in Iran's nuclear self-reliance.

Mr. ALI AKHBAR SALEHI (Nuclear Chief, Iran) (Through Interpreter): This means that Iran has become self-sufficient in the entire fuel cycle: starting from the exploration and then mining, and then enriching it and turning it into fuel pellets.

KENYON: The claim could not be independently verified. Indeed, lack of verification lies at the heart of international suspicions about Iran's insistence on enriching its own uranium a process that could be entirely peaceful, as Iran claims, but could also lead to a nuclear weapon. National Security Council spokesman Michael Hammer said the Iranian claim was not unexpected, but calls its intentions into further question and quote, raises additional concerns at a time when Iran needs to address the concerns of the international community.

Simon Henderson, a nuclear expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says if true, the Iranian claim is not good news for Washington and its allies. But questions remain about this claim of nuclear self-sufficiency.

Mr. SIMON HENDERSON (Nuclear Expert, Washington Institute for Near East Policy): At the moment, they havent been using their own yellowcake; theyve been using previously imported material. This material comes from their own uranium deposits, apparently. But whether its good enough to actually convert and put in a centrifuge is quite another question.

KENYON: While experts ponder the veracity and significance of Iran's claim, diplomats are pressing Tehran to engage with the world, and comply with U.N. Security Council Resolutions. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a security conference in Bahrain over the weekend that Washington has no objection to the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): What we object to is a pursuit of nuclear weapons that can be used to threaten and intimidate their neighbors and beyond. That is unacceptable, and it is destabilizing. And it, unfortunately, will spark arms races.

KENYON: But Iran's message to the world seems clear. A week after the assassination of one of its senior nuclear scientists, Tehran is entering these talks in a defiant mood. Analysts say the negotiators here have their work cut out for them.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Geneva.

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