Mixed Message Emerges from Iran on Nuclear Program

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Iranian President Mohamoud Ahmadinejad in Indonesia. Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images. i

Iranian President Mohamoud Ahmadinejad during a press conference at the end of the Fifth Summit of the Developing Eight (D8) in Indonesia last week. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Mohamoud Ahmadinejad in Indonesia. Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images.

Iranian President Mohamoud Ahmadinejad during a press conference at the end of the Fifth Summit of the Developing Eight (D8) in Indonesia last week.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Iran's president is maintaining his hard line on the country's nuclear ambitions, insisting that Iran will never give up its uranium enrichment program. He has rejected a package of incentives from the European Union aimed at curbing Iran's program. But other voices in Tehran suggest a compromise is still possible.


Now let's look more closely at one of the threats that Mary Louise mentioned. The President of Iran is rejecting incentives to stop his country's uranium enrichment activities. This is the latest step in a fight over Iran's nuclear program.

From a distance it can seem that Iranians are united behind their president and embracing confrontation with the West. From Tehran, the picture is more complicated.

NPR's Mike Shuster reports on the defiance of Iran's president and the more flexible statements of others in power.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Early this week, the story leaked that the European Union was preparing a new set of incentives to Iran to stop its uranium enrichment. The package reportedly will go beyond what the Europeans unsuccessfully offered Iran last year and includes a light water nuclear reactor. This is a kind of reactor that generates electricity and is less prone to producing the fissile material used to make a bomb.

At this point there does not seem to be consensus among the Europeans and the U.S. that such a reactor will be part of the package, and EU negotiators have extended their discussions into next week to work out the details. But almost within hours of the story leaking, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mocked and rejected the idea in a speech in the town of Ahraq.

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Foreign language spoken)

SHUSTER: You say you want to grant incentives. Do you think you are dealing with a four-year-old child who will take walnuts and chocolate in exchange for gold? Why do you speak in the language of the colonialist era, he continued. Do not hold a club over our head.

But Ahmadinejad's is not the sole voice speaking out in Iran on the nuclear crisis. Last week, Hassan Rohani, the former Chief Nuclear Negotiator and now an advisor to Iran's supreme religious leader, Ali Khamenei, published an article in Time magazine appealing for compromise.

Rahman Garamanpur(ph) is Director of Arms Control Studies at the Center for Strategic Research here, and a colleague of Rohani's.

Mr. RAHMAN GARAMANPUR (Director of Arms Control Studies at the Center for Strategic Research): Mr. Rohani had emphasized that the present crises between Iran and the United States of America is to a large extent the product of hard liners in both countries. You can reach a compromise over technical dimensions of nuclear activity, and also we can continue negotiations over practical dimensions.

SHUSTER: Specifically, Rohani wrote that extremists all around see their interests in heightened tension and crisis. He also stated that a nuclear weapon would provide no security to Iran.

While he has not backed off insisting that Iran continue a small-scale pilot project of enriching uranium, he was explicit that there could be caps on such activities, and that inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency could return to more intrusive inspections to make sure the Iranians were not diverting the material for bombs.

This is in stark contrast to the hard line constantly expressed by President Ahmadinejad. Rahman Garamanpur dismissed the President's words as part of the negotiating process.

Mr. GARAMANPUR: Politicians should bargain. And I think that Mr. Ahmadinejad had sent a pulse to EU that you should give more and more incentives, and you should decrease your disincentives if you want to reach a compromise.

SHUSTER: The picture here is further complicated by the way that Iran's leaders view international relations. For a variety of historical reasons, they do not trust the U.S., the British and the Russians. Many see dark conspiracies at work, among them that Russia may be playing a double game, suddenly prodding the U.S. to invade Iran in order to further erode U.S. power and prestige in the world.

Nevertheless, many here want the U.S. and Iran to talk, about the nuclear issue as well as the deeper problems that have plagued the two nations for a quarter century.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi was vice president in the previous reformist Iranian government.

Mr. MOHAMMAD ALI ABTAHI (Former Vice President of Iran): (Through translator) War is not a good solution. There remains only dialogue between the countries, and I believe that the officials of both countries, Iran and the United States, should be prepared to talk about the problems. Continuing the present condition between the countries is not to anybody's benefit.

SHUSTER: But, Abtahi admitted, he too fears extremists in both Iran and the U.S. are pushing the confrontation too far.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

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