Officials Agree to Delay Approach to Iran Nuclear Program

During talks that went into the early morning in London, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign officials agreed to delay U.N. Security Council consideration of Iran's nuclear program until March. This gives more time for a negotiated settlement with Iran. John Ydstie talks with Rob Gifford.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

The United States, Western European nations, Russia, and China have agreed that Iran should be taken before the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program. But during talks that went into the early morning in London, they agreed to delay Security Council consideration until March. This gives more time for a negotiated settlement with Iran. The compromise agreement came at the end of a long day of diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Today, Rice is focusing on the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Rob Gifford joins me now from London. Rob, with regard to Iran is this exactly what the U.S. wanted?

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Well, a senior U.S. diplomat briefing reporters just past 2:00 this morning after the meeting, a long dinner meeting last night, said this was very much the best that the U.S. could hope for. I think it is very much what the U.S. wanted with one caveat. They did make a concession, Washington and the European nations, they made a concession to the Chinese and to the Russians allowing for this sort of month's grace period, if you like, before Iran's dossier is sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency to the U.N. Security Council.

So, that leaves the door open for Iran to comply with U.S. and European demands. So, there was a slight concession, because as we know, the Chinese and the Russians have been very concerned about referring Iran to the U.N.

YDSTIE: Is there any indication what the Security Council will do once it's handed the Iranian nuclear issue?

GIFFORD: No, not at all. We're at the start of a very long road here. If indeed, it does go the U.N. Security Council in March, there are all sorts of other measures that could be implemented before you even get to talking about official sanctions.

If you did get to the point where you were talking about strict sanctions implemented through the U.N. Security Council, you've got to have a whole other debate with the Russians and the Chinese, who initially didn't even want it referred to the U.N., certainly will not want to see strict sanctions imposed on Iran. Of course, they both want Iranian oil. They both have extensive interests with Iran. So, really this is just the start of the path and at every step, there is going to have to be major, major negotiation.

YDSTIE: What are the dangers of taking this route, that is, delaying going to Security Council?

GIFFORD: I think the dangers of this whole route are largely to do with what Iran could do now. Iran has threatened to stop the snap elections that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are currently allowed. There is the possibility of the IAEA inspectors being kicked out altogether, which is basically what happened with the North Koreans, and in North Korea now, there is no IAEA presence. And, you know, we're flying blind, if you like.

We have no idea what is going on inside North Korea. That is quite dangerous, although some people in the U.S. Administration don't see it as such. They say the time has come to act. But I think a lot of analysts see that as a little bit worrying. There is, of course, the issue of oil as well, that the Iranians could follow through on their threat to just stop exporting so much oil. With the price of a barrel of oil already so high, it could go through the roof if they follow through with that in this, what could be a real tit for tat exchange over coming months.

YDSTIE: Secretary Rice is now turning her attention to Afghanistan, along with representatives from 60 other nations and international institutions, what do we expect?

GIFFORD: Well, this is very much a conference in London to commit more money. Secretary Rice has said the U.S. will give $1 billion over the coming year to Afghanistan. But really, as one person said here to me yesterday, I mean, this visit was supposed to initially to be about Afghanistan. And poor old Afghanistan has been relegated down the agenda by the issue of Hamas and the issue of Iran. But essentially, the U.S. is saying we support Afghanistan and we want to go on supporting its reconstruction.

YDSTIE: NPR's Rob Gifford in London. Thanks very much.

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