New Iran Nuclear Plant Adds to Diplomats' Dilemma

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) walks during the opening ceremony of a heavy water plant. i

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the opening ceremony of a heavy-water plant in Arak. Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) walks during the opening ceremony of a heavy water plant.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the opening ceremony of a heavy-water plant in Arak.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opens a nuclear production plant in Iran, further complicating diplomatic attempts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. Experts are studying Iran's 20-page response to a U.N. proposal on the issue.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a heavy water reactor in central Iran today. It's the latest indication that Iran is moving ahead with its nuclear program despite ongoing pressure from the West. Earlier this week, Iran sent a lengthy but private response to a European package of incentives designed to get the country to stop enriching uranium.

NPR's Mike Shuster has been following this story closely and joins us from NPR West. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And before we get into what might be known about what's in the Iranian response, help us remember how we got this far. Europeans made this offer back in June and since then the U.N. Security Council's been involved as well.

SHUSTER: Yeah, that's right Scott. The Europeans offered a bunch of incentives, economic incentives and technological incentives to the Iranians if they would suspend uranium enrichment. That was in early June. The Iranians then said, well, we're going to take a couple of months to look at this and try to understand what's in it and we'll respond by August 22nd.

At that point there was some impatience on the part of Western leaders, particularly President Bush, who said publicly that he did understand why it would take so long. But in fact the Iranians took quite a long time. They were dealing with the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany. And those nations got impatient and at the end of July passed a formal resolution in the Security Council in effect demanding that Iran stop uranium enrichment.

The Iranians ignored that - in fact, some Iranian leaders said that was illegal - and then they responded this past week, on August 22nd, to the original European proposal of incentives from back in early June. We don't know precisely what the Iranians have said, but it appears that they didn't address the key issue as defined by the Security Council now, which is the demand to suspend uranium enrichment.

So it's a somewhat muddled diplomatic situation right now, and all of the other nations that were dealing with Iran are trying to figure out what to do.

SIMON: Was the delay a stalling tactic or do you sense - have you been told that, in fact, there's some disagreement among the Iranian leadership about how to respond?

SHUSTER: There's no question that there was disagreement among the Iranian leadership about how to respond. There are a lot of different power centers in Iran and there are differing opinions. Some of those actually may have wanted to string this out in order to delay.

But I've been told by someone who's close to the Iranian leadership that moderates have now seized control of this issue and they put forward some real responses to the European incentive package and they're hoping that the nations that they're dealing with will respond positively.

SIMON: Based on the response various nations have had, what can you infer might be in the Iranian response?

SHUSTER: Well, I think there are a lot of questions in the Iranian response. I'll give you an example. It appears that the Iranians are asking a lot of questions about the nuclear technology that might be provided to them and how U.S. sanctions - which prohibit that at this point - how that will come into play. Will the United States really remove those sanctions? That's a concrete question. And one can understand why the Iranian government might want an answer to it.

It's said that there were up to a hundred questions in this note that they gave the six nations a few days ago. So - and actually the Europeans have said there's a lot to go through and we need to study this hard.

SIMON: Are there the votes for economic sanctions now?

SHUSTER: It's not clear, Scott. The United States, it seems, wants to begin discussions about possible economic sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. Russia has come out this week and said this is not the time for it. China is likely to follow Russia and there are divisions among the Europeans. So it doesn't seem that right now a resolution for economic sanctions against Iran would pass.

SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster at NPR West. Thanks very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Scott.

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