Obama Sets Deadline For Iranian Plant Inspection

Iran must grant international inspectors access to its newly disclosed nuclear enrichment facility within two weeks, President Obama said Thursday after Iran pledged to allow inspections soon.

"Talk is no substitute for action," Obama said at the White House after talks ended earlier in the day in Switzerland. "Our patience is not unlimited."

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The president's statement came a few hours after a senior European envoy said Iran had pledged to open the plant to inspectors, possibly within a few weeks.

Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official, also confirmed that Iran and six world powers, including the United States, will hold a new set of talks this month on international concerns about Tehran's nuclear program and other issues raised by the Islamic republic. He made the comments at a meeting near Geneva of officials from the seven nations.

In another development at Thursday's Geneva meeting, the U.S. and Iran sat down for bilateral talks during a break, a significant departure from past U.S. policy of not negotiating with Tehran.

U.S. spokesman Robert Wood says U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns met with Saeed Jalili, Tehran's chief negotiator.

Western diplomats said the two discussed issues during a lunch break at Thursday's talks. Wood, and two Western diplomats who demanded anonymity for discussing the confidential information, declined to elaborate to The Associated Press.

It is the first known direct high-level meeting between Washington and Tehran in years of attempts to persuade Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program. Iran says the program is peaceful, but some Western nations fear it could eventually produce nuclear weapons.

Obama said Thursday that Iran must follow through on its promises of transparency in its nuclear program. He said Iran also must take concrete steps to show that the program is for peaceful purposes and not an effort to pursue nuclear weapons.

The president said the United States is prepared to move toward bringing more pressure on Iran if it does not carry out its international obligations.

Diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — plus Germany met Thursday with Iran's top nuclear negotiator.

Before the meeting, a senior U.S. official in Geneva called the talks the beginning of an "extraordinarily difficult process."

Tensions over Iran's nuclear program rose higher last week with the revelation that Iran has been secretly building an underground plant to enrich uranium. President Obama called that facility "a direct challenge" to the nuclear nonproliferation system and said it shows that Iran is on "a path that is going to lead to confrontation."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed that charge as "baseless," repeating his government's assertions that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said that Tehran viewed the talks as a test of the major powers' willingness to respect Iran's rights. Iranian officials have said the talks should include a wide range of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian question and changes in the structure of the U.N. that would distribute power among more countries.

From NPR and wire service reports



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