Major Powers Hold Talks on Iran Sanctions

Diplomats from the U.S., Russia, China, France, China and Germany meet in London to discuss further sanctions against Iran. The U.N.'s nuclear agency says Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

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

Some of the world's leading powers are deciding what to do next about Iran. It missed a deadline to stop nuclear enrichment, so diplomats are meeting today in London. They include representatives of Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The American representative is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who faces regular questions about when the U.S. will talk with Iran.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Department of State): They need to stop enriching and reprocessing, and then we can sit down and talk about whatever is on Iran's mind. But the international community has been steadfast. We have a Chapter VII resolution that demonstrates that Iran is isolating itself. It's time for Iran to take a different course, and we hope they will.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that tape of Condoleezza Rice comes to us from Fox News. We go now to NPR's Rob Gifford in London. Okay, Rob, Iran has said it's not going to stop nuclear enrichment. What can other countries do about it?

ROB GIFFORD: Well, the reason for the meeting today here in London, Steve, is just to start a bit more of a slow squeeze on Iran in terms of sanctions. There were sanctions imposed on the country in December, and they were given a 60-day deadline to comply with stopping their uranium enrichment, which has now passed. So the powers are meeting here in London to try to talk about a wider arms embargo, perhaps about freezing some of the export credits that are given by European governments for trade with Iran and just generally broadening the array of sanctions to be imposed upon Iran.

INSKEEP: Do all of these countries - which include all the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - do they all agree on what to do?

GIFFORD: Well, not exactly. And this, of course, is always the problem. The five permanent members will be represented here, plus Germany. And it is often the two countries - China and Russia - that are the ones that need to be persuaded. Beijing and Moscow have extensive dealings with Iran, and so they're very leery about stepping up any kind of sanctions regime.

INSKEEP: And there has certainly been some hard rhetoric in recent days.

GIFFORD: Well, there has. You just heard Condoleezza Rice speaking yesterday about Iran. In fact, she was speaking in response to comments by President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who said over the weekend that Iran's nuclear program had no reverse gear and no brake. And so once again, the Iranian government continuing to insist that it's going to carry on with its nuclear program, that it's solely for peaceful means.

Dick Cheney, the vice president, was in the Gulf over the weekend. He continued to insist that all options were on the table. And in return, a deputy foreign minister in Tehran also said we've prepared ourselves for any situation, even for war. So there's a lot of angry rhetoric, and we're going to have to see today whether these talks can bring about any more diplomatic solutions.

INSKEEP: Now I want to ask, Rob, how this situation compares with North Korea -a country that actually has nuclear weapons - but the United States, after pursuing a different course for some years, finally decided to sit down and talk with them and reach some kind of agreement.

GIFFORD: That's a very good question. I think there's two important issues to consider when comparing the two. One is that the North Koreans actually tested a nuclear weapon at the end of last year. So it really changed the equation, because Iran is thought to be a couple of years, still, away from having a nuclear weapon.

I think one other important thing to consider in that comparison is whether a military action is still being considered by Washington, because in North Korea, it was considered not a possibility because Pyongyang could then hit back at Seoul and Tokyo. If military action is finally written off by the U.S. administration, then - conceivably, I think - we could see more moves towards some kind of negotiated settlement. But it seems as though the Bush administration is still saying that could be a possibility.

INSKEEP: We're listening to NPR's Rob Gifford in London, where six nations are discussing Iran's nuclear enrichment program and what to do about it. Rob, thanks.

GIFFORD: Thanks very much, Steve.

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