For U.S., Iran, Will Momentous Become Momentum?

The Iranians have been consistent for years — they won't compromise on enriching uranium. The United States insists they must. Can Iran and America bridge this gap? Liane Hansen speaks with Vali Nasr, professor of International Politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of International Affairs and Adjunct Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Joining us in the studio for some analysis is Vali Nasr. He is with the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome.

Dr. VALI NASR (Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University): Thank you.

HANSEN: The Iranians have been very consistent for years. They won't compromise on enriching uranium. The U.S. insists they must for any progress to be achieved. Do you see any way to bridge this gap?

Dr. NASR: Down the road it's possible, but only if you have a series of constructive engagements, like the ones that we saw in Geneva, but more fruitful. If there's a path to diplomatic engagement, there could potentially be a change of behavior on the Iranian side.

HANSEN: The Iranians have said that they would form an international consortium to control the uranium enrichment facilities in Iran. And the EU proposal to Iran says it will guarantee nuclear fuel supply. Now, the Iranians are suspicious that any deal they might sign onto would be violated somewhere down the line. Is there any way - any assurances that the international community can give them?

Dr. NASR: Well, these talks are really at two levels. One is very narrowly about the nuclear issue and how they're going to get the fuel that they want for their nuclear program. The other one is about Iran getting security guarantees from the international community, and seeing a path to normalization of relations with the U.S. And ultimately Iranians are looking for that larger goal, whereas the Americans and the Europeans are looking for the narrower issues regarding the nuclear enrichment.

HANSEN: Could it be said, however, that the Iranian government may be trying to run out the clock on the Bush administration? Avoid any possibility of a U.S. military strike until a new American administration takes over?

Dr. NASR: Well, the Iranians are clearly not interested in war. That's why they did the missile test as a deterrence to U.S. and Israel, and that's why they - you will see a charm offensive in the language that they're using about these talks. But at the same time, I think they're interested in some kind of a deal with the international community that would consolidate their gains, but also show them a path forward towards normalization.

HANSEN Vali Nasr, there's been some talk that the United States will establish an interest section in Tehran with American diplomats working there. What are your thoughts on this possibility?

Dr. NASR: Well, for practical reasons, it's a good idea. There are tens of thousands of Iranian-Americans who travel to Iran routinely. There have been Iranian-Americans that have been held in prison in Iran. Absence of a consular presence, that makes things difficult for the U.S. But also, it would be a powerful signal that the United States and Iran would be moving in the direction of re-establishing diplomatic relations, which I think is something the Iranians would want. Because ultimately, only U.S. recognition of Iran at a diplomatic level would provide Iran with the kind of security guarantees that it's looking for.

HANSEN: Of course, the - some in the State Department fear that this would be very difficult to explain to the American public. And therefore, it would be very difficult to implement.

Dr. NASR: There are many difficult things that the various U.S. administrations have had to explain to the American public, going back to establishing of relations with China, with Soviet Union, as well as also more recently the steps that have been taken in the direction of normalization of relations with North Korea. I think the same would be true of Iran.

HANSEN: Before I let you go, in the brief time we have left, can I get your thoughts on Senator Barack Obama's trip to Afghanistan and his expected trip to Iraq?

Dr. NASR: I think it's very important both in bringing Afghanistan to the center of discussions about U.S. security and the challenges that face the United States. But also, I think he enjoys enormous amount of popularity in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and it can give much more latitude for American policy in the region.

HANSEN: Optimistic, pessimistic? One choice.

Dr. NASR: I think on some issues, we can be optimistic, such as Iraq. On some issues, like Afghanistan, we have to be extremely cautious.

HANSEN: Vali Nasr is the author of "The Shia Revival," and professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of International Affairs. Thank you so much for coming in.

Dr. NASR: Thank you.

HANSEN: And coming up later in the program, an American tours nuclear weapons facilities around the world as part of his vacation, including a uranium conversion facility in Iran. Stay tuned.

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