U.S., Allies Discuss Iran Approach in London

Officials from the U.N. Security Council and Germany, meeting to discuss a strategy to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, report progress — but no consensus as of yet. The London session has focused on a package of incentives to encourage Iran to limit its nuclear program.

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In London today the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany held talks about Iran's nuclear program. The ambassadors discussed a package of incentives and deterrents designed to convince Iran to stop enriching uranium, but they failed to reach a consensus. Iran says it wants to develop a civilian nuclear power industry, the United States and the Europeans are concerned that the Iranians are trying to create nuclear weapons.

NPR's Rachel Martin is in London covering the meeting. And Rachel this was billed as a crucial meeting with the U.S. and Europeans, Russia and China would finally agree on a common approach to take with Iran. What happened today?

RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Melissa, this was one crucial meeting in what's turning out to be a series of crucial meetings among world powers on Iran. The purpose of today's meeting was to talk over a proposal drafted by the Europeans, which is meant to convince Iran to put a temporary halt to its nuclear enrichment program.

Now, EU officials have said the deal could include things like a light water nuclear reactor for Iran, steady fuel supplies from foreign sources that could be used to fuel civilian nuclear plants and also possible security guarantees. It could also include a list of possible penalties if Iran doesn't cooperate.

The Europeans are hoping the can craft a tightly knit proposal that will allow Iran basically every opportunity to move forward with a civilian nuclear program, so if Iran then refuses the deal it'll prove that Iran has intentions to develop a military nuclear program.

So while diplomats characterize the talks today as a good day's work, citing some progress, it's still unclear how long it will take to hammer out a deal that can satisfy all the parties involved.

BLOCK: Well those are the goals, what are the sticking points, or who's doing the sticking as they try to reach consensus here?

MARTIN: There are a couple different points of contention that's really, have really made it difficult for the Security Council to come up with a united position on Iran. First, the U.S. has been pushing for a resolution under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter. Now that could open the door to sanctions or the possibility of military action against Iran, but both Russia and China are opposed to this. They say that sanctions would only make Iran even more intractable and less likely to cooperate with the international community.

So that's where this incentive package comes in. It's something the Europeans are hoping will be an alternative to a Chapter Seven resolution, but the problem with this is the possible inclusion of some kind of security guarantee in this incentive package. Iran has said it needs assurances that the U.S. will not pursue some kind of regime change in Iran or any kind of military action, but that's something the U.S. has refused to promise, saying that it's important to keep all the options on the table and that Iran, which has called for the destruction of Israel repeatedly, does not deserve any kind of security guarantees.

So while European officials say their deal could ring hollow without U.S. support, Iran is unlikely to accept it unless there are these firm promises from the U.S.

BLOCK: Now at the same time that these discussions are under way there in London, Iran has been pushing for direct talks with the United States.

MARTIN: Yes, it was reported today actually in the Washington Post, there was a report citing some Iranian officials who've been using intermediaries to convey their interest in opening up direct talks with Washington.

That's something that has been gaining support in the international community. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also suggested that it would be time for direct U.S./Iranian dialogue. Germany also has been very vocal on this issue, saying that a workable solution is going to be tough unless the U.S. opens direct talks with Iran.

BLOCK: NPR's Rachel Martin in London. Rachel, thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

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