Iranian Nuke Talks End In Deadlock

Representatives from the United States and Iran sat down at the same table in Geneva on Saturday to talk about Iran's nuclear program. It was a historic moment, but didn't produce a diplomatic breakthrough. What is clear is that Iran faces a new deadline and the threat of more sanctions.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

First today, a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance in Geneva, Switzerland. Representatives of the United States and Iran sat down at the same table. It was a breakthrough moment. Words were spoken, views exchanged, but however you describe the events, do not call them negotiations.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Geneva. Sylvia, any concrete results?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: For the moment, no. What happened is that the world powers gave Iran another two weeks to respond positively to their calls that it freeze in any expansion of its nuclear program in return for the U.N. Security Council halting further sanction measures, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solano told reporters repeatedly that the talks were constructive and positive, but he said Iran did not give a clear answer to that main question, whether it will freeze its uranium-enrichment program, and the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, evaded reporters' questions on the issue.

He spoke much more generally about a proposal Tehran had brought to the table today. That package involves a much broader discussion of issues involving the whole Middle East: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Solano told reports okay, we can all talk about that later but only after Iran agrees to freeze uranium enrichment.

SEABROOK: So they have two more weeks, though. Is that progress in the situation?

POGGIOLI: Well, a little half-full, half-empty. It's basically Iran has been given a deadline, and if the answer it gives is no, well that could lead to a whole new round of U.N. sanctions.

SEABROOK: Williams Burns was the lead American diplomat here, but he wasn't actively negotiating with the Iranians. What role did he play?

POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know because he kept a very low profile with the media, but Solano said his presence was very important because it showed unity of the six negotiating, the world powers, and certainly that showed that it'll be harder for Tehran to play the Europeans against the United States or count on its closer relations with China and Russia, and in fact today after the meeting, the head of the Chinese delegation told reporters that a solution must be found sooner rather than later and that he wants to see a positive response from our Iranian colleague, words that sound like China now could also be on board for further sanctions if Iran does not deliver.

SEABROOK: Was there reaction from Iranians?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, there were sort of mixed signals. Before the talks began, one member of the delegation said Tehran will never suspend its nuclear program, but the negotiator, Jalili, was much more evasive. He compared the negotiating process to the slow and precise work of weaving a Persian carpet.

So the dilemma involving Iran is, as always, who will have the upper hand, the hard-liners or the moderates, and whether they're just playing for time.

SEABROOK: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Geneva. Thanks very much, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Andrea.

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