Diplomacy Takes Center Stage at Iran Talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Vienna, Austria, to discuss Iran's nuclear program with U.N. Security Council partners. The meeting is part of a renewed emphasis on using diplomacy to confront Iran's nuclear activities. On Wednesday, the Bush administration offered to participate in direct talks with Iran if Tehran halted uranium enrichment.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

We're tracking two efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology this morning. In a moment, we'll find out why the smuggling network started by a Pakistani scientist may still be operating. We begin in Vienna. That's where diplomats from the U.S. and other nations are meeting. They're deciding which incentives to offer and which sanctions to threaten Iran.

NPR's Rob Gifford is in Vienna. And, Rob, first these talks come right after the U.S. offered direct talks with Iran under conditions that Iran is rejecting. What's going on here?

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Well, what's going on is really a follow-up to yesterday's announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of a change in the Bush Administration's policy towards Iran. She's just arrived here and she's meeting with the foreign ministers of all the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

And she's really doing two things: following up, showing that the U.S. is serious, very serious, in wanting to go down a diplomatic route here to solve this and having discussions with the senior diplomats on that issue. But also, very much looking to the Chinese and the Russians, specifically, to talk to them about what to do if Iran refuses - as it looks as though it is at the moment, to go along with this, and to freeze its uranium enrichment. And that could lead to the Chinese and the Russians coming on board with some kind of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

INSKEEP: Why is Iran refusing?

GIFFORD: Well, Iran has said that this is a matter of its own sovereignty, that it maintains the right to develop, enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, which is what it's always said it is for. The foreign minister of Iran has come out this morning and said he welcomes talks. He absolutely welcomes talks with the United States but he rejects the precondition that the U.S. has put on them.

INSKEEP: We mentioned incentives and sanctions. What exactly is on the table, as the Western countries decide what to do next?

GIFFORD: Well, today is very much a matter of hammering out some of those incentives, disincentives, the carrots and sticks, if you like, of what's going to be put to the Iranians. It's thought that the Europeans themselves will be the ones who will put it to the Iranians later this week, putting things like incentives for supplies of atomic fuel so that Iran would not have to enrich uranium themselves, those kind of issues, and trying desperately to get the Iranians to freeze their own uranium enrichment program.

INSKEEP: Rob, has there been much talk about what will happen if diplomatic efforts fail?

GIFFORD: Well, that's very much where the Chinese and the Russians come in, because they have been so reluctant to go down any road towards sanctions at the United Nations. And I think that is very much a part of what today's talks will be about. Condoleezza Rice will be talking especially to the Chinese and the Russians to try and persuade them that some kind of strong sanctions must be put in place, because if Iran rejects this, because this is really the last offer from the United States.

INSKEEP: And when you say last offer, does that mean that military action - while it's not imminent at all - might be creeping just a little closer?

GIFFORD: It all depends on what Iran does. If they - it seems, just in the last 24 hours that the pragmatists have come to the fore in Washington. Perhaps the pragmatists will come to the fore in Tehran and engage with the United States now.

INSKEEP: Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Gifford in Vienna, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is participating in more discussions on Iran's nuclear program.

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