U.S., Iran Deadlocked on Iran's Nuclear Program

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Iran and the Bush administration remain locked in a dispute over Iran's nuclear program — Iran insists it has a right to develop nuclear power, but the White House believes Iran intends on building nuclear weapons. Madeleine Brand talks with NPR senior diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster about the international response to Iran's refusal to end its uranium enrichment program.


The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency issues a report on Friday about the nuclear program in Iran. The U.S. is demanding an end to nuclear research programs there that might lead to a bomb. Iran says it's only trying to develop nuclear energy.

The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on a surprise visit to Iraq today, but for the last few days, she's been in Greece and Turkey trying to build support for U.N. actions to stop Iran.

Mike Shuster is NPR's senior diplomatic correspondent, and a frequent visitor to Iran. Mike, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday, Iran is eager to share its nuclear knowledge with other Islamic states. That's quite a thing for him to say.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

It is. And it's alarming to the United States. It was especially alarming to the Bush administration, because he said it in a meeting with the leader of Sudan, and Sudan is not a--Sudan is another nation not in the good graces of the United States.

I have to say that Iranian leaders have said this before. They have said that they'd like to become a regional player in nuclear technology. They see commercial possibilities in it.

The United States and other nations fear that they might share nuclear weapons technology that they might acquire with other nations. And it's especially alarming, because it comes on top of other recent statements by Iranian leaders that the Iranians might stop all cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if sanctions are imposed. The Iranian leaders have said they might bury and hide their nuclear technology if they're attacked by the United States.

And that itself comes on top of a flurry of news reports in the United States that there are operational plans, or near-operational plans, in the United States to attack Iranian nuclear sites. So this is the kind of war of words that's been going on for several weeks now.

CHADWICK: Let's just--one more thing on this statement yesterday. As you have noted several times in conversations about Iran in the past, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has made a lot of statements that people think are kind of loony, you've pointed out that his position isn't really that powerful in Iran. The real power is, indeed, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who made this statement yesterday.

SHUSTER: That's right. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran's supreme religious leader. And, as such, he is the top leader in Iran. President Ahmadinejad has only been in office for less than a year and has worked hard, at least rhetorically, to cement his position.

But the supreme religious leader in Iran is the top political leader as well.

CHADWICK: You reported this morning on MORNING EDITION on a proposed compromise that would allow Iran to have a nuclear program that would remain under some sort of international supervision. More on that, please.

SHUSTER: Well, there is a former U.S. White House official at Harvard. And it turns out that earlier this year, a former deputy foreign minister of Iran took a leave from Iran and is at Harvard as well. The two of them have written, in effect, an op-ed essay.

So these two scholars--one Iranian, one American--at Harvard have said, well, there are other ways of doing this. There could be a consortium of nations that deal in nuclear technology that could guarantee to enrich uranium for the Iranians.

The United States could even be involved in this if it were under the auspices of the IAEA, which is a program that the director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has proposed.

There was even a suggestion that there is technology that could, in effect, prevent the Iranians from gaining control of all of it, even if it were built in Iran--a kind of black box that would prevent their access to the advanced centrifuges that make enriched uranium.

But there's a way of doing this that could satisfy the United States and possibly satisfy Iran. So they've put that out there on the table.

CHADWICK: Mike, this report that's due Friday from the IAEA on Iran's nuclear program, what do you expect in that? And what sort of a step is this report in terms of the process of where we are?

SHUSTER: Nearly a month ago, the Security Council asked the IAEA to do another report a month later on whether Iran has stopped enriching uranium as the Security Council asked it to do. The report is likely to say no, Iran has not done that. It's expanded its uranium enrichment activities.

There are also a number of other unanswered questions about some of Iran's nuclear activities that have not been clarified, like its work in a more advanced centrifuge, its work with uranium tetrafluoride, which is a kind of a salt that's a step in the process that leads to uranium enrichment. None of these questions appear to have been resolved during this month, and advanced reports suggest that's what the IAEA is going to tell the Security Council.

CHADWICK: NPR's Mike Shuster. Thank you, Mike.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex.

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