U.S., Allies Meet With Iran On Nuclear Program
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
In Switzerland today, representatives from the U.S. and five other world powers outline their concerns about Iran's nuclear program and talks with an Iranian delegation. And Americans held the highest level direct talks with the Iranians in decades. Back in Washington, President Obama gave a cautious assessment.
President BARACK OBAMA: Today's meeting was a constructive beginning, but it must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government.
BLOCK: NPR's Eric Westervelt is following events in Geneva. He sent this report.
ERIC WESTERVELT: The urgency of the talks grew following last week's disclosure that Iran is constructing a second Uranium enrichment site. After the day long talks here, the European Union's chief foreign policy official Javier Solana said the Iranians today agreed to allow inspectors to see that site within the next few weeks. Solana said the tenor of today's talks was positive and more productive than the last meeting more than a year ago.
Mr. JAVIER SOLANA (Chief Foreign Policy Official, European Union): The delegation came knowing there was a different setting than in previous meetings. I said, and I repeat, it is the first time this meeting takes place with the United States' government fully engaged.
WESTERVELT: A U.S. official here says Under Secretary of State William Burns met with Saeed Jalili, the top Iranian official attending in a rare one-on-one talk during a lunch break. It was the highest level contact between the two countries in nearly three decades. The U.S. official says the two discussed the nuclear issue, human rights and U.S. citizens detained in Iran. In the end, today was an important meeting about meetings. The six major powers and Iran have agreed to talk again by the end of this month. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a productive day, but warned against delaying tactics by Iran.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): I think we are on it. We've always said we would engage, but we're not talking for the sake of talking. We are not involved in a process just to say that we can check a box on process. We want to see concrete actions and positive results. And I think today's meeting opened the door, but let's see what happens.
WESTERVELT: U.S. and European diplomats said they reiterated to the Iranians that the freeze for freeze offer from July of 2008 is still on the table. That idea is for Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the suspension of U.N. sanctions. The EU's Solana said the Iranians have not yet responded to the renewed offer.
This summer's disputed Iranian election and harsh crackdown on protesters that followed have complicated the Obama administration's diplomatic overtures to the Islamic Republic. Some on the right have criticized the White House for opening channels to an increasingly isolated and, some believe, illegitimate regime.
Mr. SHAHRAM CHUBIN (Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) Saying that you shouldn't engage a regime that has bloody hands. The trouble with that is of course that that's a recipe for not dealing with the nuclear issue.
WESTERVELT: Shahram Chubin is a Geneva-based senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He believes the deep internal risks in Iran certainly make diplomatic efforts like today's talks more difficult. But Chubin thinks the domestic trouble could also be an asset, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears weakened.
Mr. CHUBIN: He's not supported at home. The elite are divided. The society is polarized. And at the same time there's international pressure on him. Because of the - because of what he did, there's a lack of trust which has been built up on the nuclear issue, accentuated by its repression and its vicious activities of his own citizenry.
WESTERVELT: Still, others fear that a domestically weakened Ahmadinejad will be less likely to compromise on the nuclear issue.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Geneva.
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