U.S. Offers Incentives to Iran, Awaits Response

Washington awaits a response from Tehran after dropping major precondition to talks with Iran. The international community is attempting to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear-arms ambitions.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

The international community is now awaiting a final word from Iran on the intense, and even historic, diplomatic efforts this week to separate that nation from its nuclear ambitions. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a major shift in U.S. policy, a willingness to sit down with the Iranians, reversing more than two decades of official U.S. ostracism. And on Thursday, the U.S., Europe, Russia and China found agreement on a package of incentives that they will offer Iran to stop enriching uranium.

NPR's Mike Shuster is with us to discuss these developments. Hi, Mike.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Hi, Lynn.

NEARY: Mike, was the U.S. offer to join multilateral talks really sincere?

SHUSTER: I think you can say it was sincere. There was this major precondition that the Americans put on sitting down for negotiations with the Iranians, which was that Iran has to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, and of course that's the end goal of the negotiations, at least one of the major end goals of the negotiations and the Iranians rejected it initially by saying we're willing to talk with the United States without preconditions. Still, the language that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used was more moderate. The precondition was a suspension of uranium enrichment. It wasn't an end to Iran's uranium enrichment activities. And at the same time, she acknowledged Iran's right to have peaceful nuclear power and nuclear activities. That was a big change. The United States before has always insisted no nuclear activities in Iran whatsoever, including a nuclear energy program. So there was some movement on the part of the United States for sure in this offer.

NEARY: Is there any disagreement on the American side between the State Department and the Pentagon, for instance? Any disagreement on how the U.S. should be proceeding with Iran on this?

SHUSTER: There's no question that the Bush Administration is deeply divided on this issue as it is on many other issues. There were significant policy makers in the Bush Administration that don't want to negotiate with Iran, and as I understand it, Secretary Rice had to overcome their objections in making her case to President Bush. And in her press conference, there was a lot of language, particularly in response to questions in which she was highly critical of the Iranians and the Iranian regime. That's seen by some analysts as an effort to placate those in the Administration that don't want to do this. And so if the Administration does have an opportunity to sit down with the Iranians, and we still don't know whether that'll be the case, there will probably be a pushback from those in the Administration that don't like this.

NEARY: Mike, has Iran actually broken any laws or international agreements?

SHUSTER: As a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, it is allowed to pursue peaceful nuclear activities, and Iran's position all along has been that it's doing nothing but pursuing its rights under the non-proliferation treaty. However, Iran also has safeguard agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which it violated consistently over the past 20 years by pursuing a secret nuclear program that involved nuclear activities and the construction of nuclear facilities without informing the IAEA what it was doing. And so the United States, in particular, and to a lesser extent the Europeans, are putting an enormous amount of pressure on Iran because it did these activities in secret, in violation of safeguard agreements. And that ultimately, toward the end of last year, was the decision by the IAEA's Board of Governors to move this thing to the Security Council because Iran had been seen in violation of obligations under its safeguard agreements with the IAEA.

NEARY: So there are legal grounds for the international community to pressure Iran to give others nuclear ambitions.

SHUSTER: That's the U.S. argument, that's the argument of the Europeans and a majority of the members of the Board of Governors of the IAEA. Of course, as I said, Iran disagrees.

NEARY: NPR's Mike Shuster. Thanks for joining us, Mike.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Lynn.

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