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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

There are a couple of deadlines coming up which could be crucial to the looming crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Tomorrow, Iran promises to respond to an offer of economic and political incentives if it will freeze its uranium enrichment program. You'll remember that the governments involved in that offer wanted a reply ahead of the G-8 Summit in July. Then the more important date is August 31st. The United Nation Security Council resolution demands that Iran cease enrichment by that date or face possible sanctions.

Here in Washington today, President Bush said he hoped the Security Council would act quickly to impose sanctions if Iran defies the U.N. resolution. Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would pursue nuclear technology despite the U.N. deadline. And reports from Vienna, the home of the IAEA - the U.N.'s nuclear monitoring agency - say that Iran today refused access to U.N. inspectors when they attempted to enter an underground nuclear site.

Today, we'll check in with Tehran, Washington, and with France to ask about the possibilities of compromise and confrontation, and about the affect of the recent war between Israel and Iran's ally Hezbollah. Later, our weekly Opinion Page focuses on a journalist's attempt to inform herself without newspapers, magazines, books, radio, and TV - the Digital Diet.

But first, the next crisis in the Middle East. If you have questions about the upcoming deadlines and how Washington, Tehran, and European capitals might react, give us a call. The number: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

In a few minutes, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns joins us. But we begin in the Iranian capital Tehran with Kasra Naji, a correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Nice to have you back on the program today.

Mr. KASRA NAJI (Correspondent, Australian Broadcasting Corporation): Thank you very much.

CONAN: And with the end of the conflict now in southern Lebanon and the approach of these deadlines, what's the mood in Tehran?

Mr. NAJI: Well, the mood remains defiant. As you said, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei today made a speech in which he said that Iran has made up its mind, it is going to go ahead with this nuclear program forcefully, he said. And this comes on the eve of announcement by Iran or Iran's response to the package of incentives offered to it by six world powers. We expect that tomorrow. But given what the Ayatollah Khamenei said today - and what other Iranian officials have been saying more or less in the last week or two - I don't expect any breakthrough.

CONAN: What is the perception in Iran of what's in this offer?

Mr. NAJI: Well, we had the deputy chief of the Energy Organization of Iran here today speaking about it, and he says basically we are giving Europeans - i.e., these world powers - who have offered Iran the incentives an opportunity, a unique opportunity to come back to the negotiating table. So that's Iran's kind of defiant response in a sense that tomorrow what we expect is that they will say no suspension, but we are happy to talk about the details of this, the package.

And the basic message is that we're not going suspend uranium enrichment activities before any talks. And if anything's - anything is going to be done about nuclear enrichment activities will have to come through the talks, not before the talks.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And are you hearing anything new about the reports we're hearing from Vienna, that inspectors were turned away from Natanz, the underground nuclear site in Iran?

Mr. NAJI: I have no information on that, but I wouldn't be surprised because the relationship have been tense on occasions when inspectors go to these places. And we know for a fact that a couple of months ago Iranians objected to the inclusion of one U.N. inspector - one particular inspector in the team -because they thought his activities or his behavior was not in line with a U.N. inspector's behavior. But beyond that, we really don't know. And if - all we heard about these things come from diplomats in Vienna who speak off the record to journalists.

CONAN: And what does Iran make of the threats repeated again today by the president of the United States that if the August 31st deadline is flouted that there will be sanctions to follow?

Mr. NAJI: Yes. We've had Iranian officials saying basically that they don't think the sanctions are going to be happening soon. It's going to be difficult. I think they are hoping that China and Russia will stop other members of the Security Council from passing a resolution imposing sanctions.

Also, they say that even if the sanctions were imposed, Iran will be able to weather that because they're not going to be serious sanctions anyway and that Iran has been under U.S. sanctions for 27 years. They have - they've lived with it and they don't think that sanctions are going to make life much more difficult than they are already in Iran.

I think, basically, Iran is generally emboldened by two or three factors: one is that their oil prices of $70 or more per barrel has given Iran room to basically maneuver and a cushioning effect, if you like, if there is going to be sanctions. The situation in Iraq is such that Iran doesn't think the U.S. is going to be able to think about a military option against Iran.

And also, recently, what has happened in southern Lebanon, Iranians see this as a victory for Hezbollah - a victory for resistance. And I think that Iranian leaders have been emboldened by what they saw in southern Lebanon. And I think all these three factors put together has made Iranians even more defiant than before.

CONAN: Kasra Naji, thanks very much.

Mr. NAJI: Thank you.

CONAN: Kasra Naji, a correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who spoke to us from home base in Tehran in Iran.

Well, joining us now is Trita Parsi, who's an Iranian and Middle Eastern specialist, author of the forthcoming book Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States. He's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A and…

Mr. TRITA PARSI (Iranian and Middle Eastern Specialist; Author): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: …I wanted you to elaborate, if you could, on the - but Kasra Naji was telling us there's a sense of boldness that has been infused in the leadership in Iran due to a combination of recent events, but certainly the war in southern Lebanon.

Mr. PARSI: Well, I think there's two things that have happened. On the one hand, yes. They have been emboldened by the fact that Hezbollah managed to withstand Israeli assault on Lebanon. And they walked out of it not necessarily stronger than before militarily, but they survived and Israel didn't manage to defeat them after 33 days of very, very heavy bombardment.

But on the other hand, the war has also increased Tehran's perception of Washington's intentions. The feeling that Washington is aiming to weaken Iran and perhaps militarily attack it and that Lebanon was more or less a prelude to that because Lebanon and Hezbollah would have been one Iran's deterrence capabilities - one of Iran's retaliatory capabilities - and by first attacking Hezbollah, one would have paved the way for an attack on Iran. However, it didn't succeed.

CONAN: Yes. But just to reinforce this - we also heard this from New York Times correspondent who'd spent time in Tehran over the past several weeks. They really saw this as a proxy war between Iran and the United States.

Mr. PARSI: They definitely saw it as an attempt by Israel and the United States to make it easier to be able to pursue a military option against Iran by first making sure that Iran's retaliatory capabilities would have been defeated.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And the retaliatory capability in Southern Lebanon. Then there's the attitude of the Iranian people. There's a lot of controversial things that the Iranian government does. This, as I understand it, is not one of them.

Mr. PARSI: Well, I think if you take a look at it - the Iranian people have many concerns, and they are certainly very concerned about the situation internally, about the economic situation. But this is one of the issues that doesn't really separate the people tremendously from the government. If the fights with Tehran would have been over human rights, for instance, then I think it would have been much more difficult for the government in Tehran to be able to rally the people around them.

But over the issue of nuclear technology, which from Tehran's perspective is not seen as an attempt by the West and the United States to deprive Iran of nuclear bombs, but rather to deprive Iran from technology that can help advance the country for peaceful purposes. That is something that is resonating with the people in Iran, and there's not much of a split there between the government and the people.

CONAN: Do people in Iran believe that? That this is nuclear power - this is something to advance the country as opposed to a nuclear weapons program?

Mr. PARSI: I think what the people over there are seeing is that once again, from their perspective, there is an effort by Western states not to permit Iran to live up to its full potential. This is something that is deeply embedded in the Iranian psyche, the feeling that the West and former colonial powers have constantly tried to prevent Iran from rising up whenever it's been in the position of strength. And right now, relatively speaking in the Middle East, Iran is a rising power. And again, this conflict is coinciding with that.

CONAN: There are a great many Iranians though who also fear the consequences of isolation. And isolation has, at least in part, been their lot for these past 25 years since the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis that followed. Iran wants to reenter the world as a regional power certainly, but also as a respected country in the world. Further isolation, further sanctions. This has to be a concern.

Mr. PARSI: Without a doubt, the Iranians want to be part of the world. For the 3,000 years of history that they've had they've always been a part of the world, if not at the center of the world. So being isolated is something that is very difficult for the Iranians to come to terms with. And this is also part of the reason why a negotiated settlement does have a very good - fair chance of succeeding, precisely because of the fact that the west hold something that the Iranians want. But in order to be able to explore that, we need to get to the negotiating table. And setting up too many preconditions seems to only be making that more difficult.

CONAN: And this offer - the way it was presented was largely presented to the Iranians as take it or leave it.

Mr. PARSI: In many ways, yes. And I think that's part of the problem as well. I think at the end of the day when we take a look at what's been happening in the region, when we take a look at what the Bush administration is saying about looking at the root causes of the problems in the Middle East - well one of them is the dysfunctional relationship between Iran and the United States. Unless that is resolved - unless that is addressed, it's going to be very difficult to be able to advance American interests in the region and uphold security and stability.

CONAN: Trita Parsi, author of the forthcoming book Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States. If you'd like to join our conversation on the looming next crisis in the Middle East, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're discussing the looming crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions and the chances for compromise and confrontation. Again, a deadline coming up at the end of this month. A United Nations Security Council resolution demands that Iran stop uranium enrichment by that date or face the possibility of sanctions.

If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Our guest is Trita Parsi, an Iranian and Middle Eastern specialist and author of the forthcoming book Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And this is Drew. Drew's calling us from Wichita in Kansas.

DREW (Caller): Hi, thank you. One of the things that I see a lot being overlooked is something I think that's going to be much bigger concern very soon - one of the world players that's not being watched very closely is China. China needs the Iranian oil, open-source intelligence says that there's Iranian religious leaders who have been flying back and forth to China. What's China's role going to be and where are they going to be standing in upcoming conflict?

CONAN: Just to point out - open-source intelligence means the newspapers, but Trita Parsi, go ahead.

Mr. PARSI: I think the caller asked a very good question because what we're facing right now with Iran and China is that Iran over the last decade or so have actually wanted to repair its relations with the United States. It's not always done very well. It's been also very indecisive at times. But at the end of the day, Iran is an extremely important country in the region and holds so much oil, so much gas - very, very talented population. It has everything that could make it a fantastic ally of the United States in the future as well. But because of the bad relations between United States and Iran, Iran has by the minute gravitated towards China. And in the view of many people, China will be the next big challenger of the United States in this coming century. And as a result, it's not the best strategy to let Iran gravitate towards China.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. What, in the more immediate context - as we heard from Kasra Naji in Tehran a little bit ago, Iranians are to some degree depending on China and Russia to block any sanctions in the Security Council. Is that faith well presented from your point of view?

Mr. PARSI: Well, I think they're to a certain extent counting on China and Russia to be able to, at a minimum, delay the decision. But I think their own calculation is that they're actually preparing themselves for sanctions thinking that…

CONAN: There was a stiff note from the Russians a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. PARSI: There was, yes. And I think that the Iranians have basically made calculations that they're going to try to withstand the sanctions as long as possible, knowing very well that even if there are some sanctions imposed, they're not going to be very, very tough sanctions - not going to be sanctions with great teeth. And as a result, ride this out and wait for the consensus within the P5 plus 1 to start to break down.

CONAN: The P5, the permanent five members of the Security Council, those with vetoes. The United States, China, Britain, France and - I'm leaving one out. Russia. Russia. And the plus one is Germany. Go ahead, Drew. I'm sorry.

DREW: That's okay. Thank you. Would it be reasonable to maybe, I don't know, consider the idea that China would continue to use some of the other countries like North Korea and Iran and Cuba as a way of tying up American interests - keeping a soft balance so that they can continue the very fast and powerful growths that they've been doing?

Mr. PARSI: I don't think they have to, because right now we're doing it for them by not talking to Iran, by not initiating direct negotiations with Iran. The Chinese don't have to do much to make sure that Iran doesn't end up getting closer to the United States.

DREW: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. Let's go now to Marie. Marie's calling is from Salem, Oregon. Marie, are you there?

MARIE (Caller): Yes, I am.

CONAN: Go ahead. You're on the air, please.

MARIE: Okay, great. My question concerns the efforts by the Iranian president to open a more productive dialogue with the United States. Specifically, apparently President Bush - he wrote some 15 to 18-page letter, which I believe has been for the most part discounted, and I'm wondering why. And secondly, he had this extensive interview with Mike Wallace that C-Span also broadcast in its entirety. What are the comments of your guest about those efforts - both the letter and the interview - and how can we in the larger population here do something to respond in a more positive and productive way to his initiatives for a more open dialogue?

CONAN: Trita Parsi?

Mr. PARSI: The Iranians understand that without getting any dialogue with the United States, there's not going to be any resolution to this problem. The mere fact that the negotiations over the package that has now been sent to Iran has more or less stalled is primarily because of the fact that the Iranians could not get enough of an impression from the Europeans that the United States was serious about negotiations. And with serious about negotiations deeming that the United States would put aside the military option, that the United States would come to the table without simultaneously trying to either overthrow the government in Iran or building up its military capability to be able to strike Iran if the talks failed.

So, the Iranians are reaching out, but they're doing so right now because they feel emboldened. They feel that they're in a better position. They feel that because of what happened with Hezbollah, the United States will sooner or later come to the conclusion that there is no military solution to this problem. There has to be negotiations.

CONAN: Marie, thanks very much.

MARIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Decisions will be made not just in Washington and in Tehran but in European capitals as well. Joining us now is Dominique Moisi, a senior advisor at the French Institute for International Relations. He joins us from Normandy in France. And thanks very much for taking the time out to join us.

(Soundbite of coughing)

CONAN: Mr. Moisi, you all right?

Mr. DOMINIQUE MOISI (Deputy Director of the French Institute for International Relations): Yes, thank you very much.

CONAN: Okay. Good. Give you a chance to catch your breath there just a little bit. We've been hearing about differences in - obviously, between Washington and Tehran. The way that the administration spins this, European members - the EU3: Germany, France and Britain - are united with the United States on this idea of let's press for a Security Council resolution demanding a stop to uranium enrichment. And if not, then sanctions. Is that right?

Mr. MOISI: Yes. Well, I think that the Europeans…

(Soundbite of cough)

Mr. MOISI: I'm sorry, I swallowed badly. I think the Europeans were initially extremely pleased to have a common position. That was a welcome departure from the situation that prevailed at the time of the Iraq War. But that pleasure became tainted with frustration as they realized that though they had managed to come together, the result of the unity of Europe was - to say the least -disappointing. There was no real influence on the United States, and even less so on Iran.

There is growing feeling in Europe that by the end of the day, the Iranians are not serious in the process of negotiation. And especially since the war in Lebanon, there is a growing feeling that the key to the problem is in fact the nature of the Iranian regime. Iran may be a great people with a great civilization, but Iran today is ruled by a group of people with an extremely aggressive and ideological revisionist vision of the world.

The declaration by the Iranian president during the war - the exhibit on cartoons of the Holocaust in Tehran are, to say the least, bad taste and are not the product of a great country, the secure country, the inheritor of a great civilization. So somewhere, the European dilemma is the following: they realize that in fact does nothing to negotiate with the Iranian. But at the same time, they are deeply scared by the conclusion - which Americans can derive from that conclusion, from that reflection - which is that by the end of the day, since there's nothing to negotiate and since the United States and probably Europe cannot accept a nuclear Iran - well, what is the option left?

CONAN: That's - and you say this has been reinforced by the developments in Southern Lebanon, the war…

Mr. MOISI: The war. In Southern Lebanon, I would say that there was at the same time great criticism of the Israeli attitude saying, well, this is not the way you solve a problem, by destroying the country. If in the United - if the Americans thought that Israel was the first line of defense of the West in the war against Islamic fundamentalism, Europeans believe that Israel was the detonator of what could turn into a clash of civilization between the West and Islam.

But at the same time, they had absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for Hezbollah. It is a big contrast with the situation that prevailed when the opponents, where the Palestinians and the Israelis - I think there was empathy compassion for the Palestinian plight. There was absolutely no sympathy for Hezbollah.

There was sympathy for the Lebanese people, but definitely not for Hezbollah, which was perceived to be the aggressor in not a war of choice, but a war of necessity led by Israel in the wrong manner.

CONAN: Stay with us if you would, Dominique Moisi, and you too as well, Trita Parsi. Joining us now from his office a the State Department is Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs. And thanks very much for being with us today.

Undersecretary NICHOLAS BURNS (Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs): It's a pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: And we've been discussing the dilemma posed by this upcoming set of deadlines with Iran. The administration keeps saying Iran knows what it needs to do, to stop enriching uranium. Yet Iran has answered - often and publicly -it seems to have no intention of giving up its nuclear program. Is there a way to bridge this gap?

Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I think what we've got to do is wait for Iran to answer the question formally, and I expect that will happen in the next several days. This is not just a demand of the United States. This is a demand of France and Britain and Germany, the European Union, Russia, China. All of us have come together over the last year to tell the Iranians that we're quite willing to negotiate with them. We're quite willing to sitting down.

On the part of the United States, that's a considerable step forward. We haven't spoken to the Iranians officially in 27 years, but we're not willing to do it. But they have to suspend their enrichment programs and reprocessing programs first.

I suspect they're going to say this week they're not willing to do that. I hope they don't say that, but I suspect they will. And if they say that they cannot meet that condition, then there's going to be a security council resolution with sanctions passed in the month of September because that is what we have all agreed we have to do.

This has gone on for a number of years. And the Iranians have to understand that there is not unlimited patience in the international community pertaining to their nuclear weapons designs.

CONAN: We are speaking with Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. He's speaking with us from his office at the State Department. We're discussing the situation regarding Iran. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

The package of concessions that was put forward by the permanent five plus one - Germany - is that a starting point from your point of view? Or is that a take it or leave it offer?

Undersecretary BURNS: Well, we put forward two offers to the Iranians. First we said there is a positive path forward, and if you would suspend your enrichment programs at your plant at Natanz, we are willing to take a number of initiatives together - all of us - to meet you halfway and to make this worth your while.

If you're not, there's a second path. And that path would lead to sanctions. So we laid that in front of the Iranians on June 6th. Javier Solana did that on behalf of the permanent five members of the security council. There were two subsequent meetings where they get into great amount of detail about what we'd be willing to do in negotiations with Iran.

But I must say - and this is Javier Solana's view - Iran didn't give him anything back to warrant any kind of hope on our part that they intended to meet the conditions laid down. This is a long storyline. The Europeans have been negotiating with the Iranians for a number of years. There had been many, many resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, of the security council. It's now time, we think, for Iran to answer this question.

Because, frankly, there's a widespread suspicion internationally - and not just in Washington, but even in places in Russia and China and Europe - that the Iranians are secretly developing a nuclear weapons program. And so we, of course, are trying to head that off. We're trying to contain it, and we're trying to turn it around.

And if the Iranians can't be straightforward with us, then we're going to have to take these sanction steps. And Iran will deserve them because they've had plenty of time to respond to this.

CONAN: What makes you think, though, that coercion - whether it's diplomatic or the sanctions get progressively stronger - that coercion's going to work?

Undersecretary BURNS: I can't assure you that sanctions will be - will work. But I can assure you that it will raise the cost to Iran. It will increase their isolation. Sanctions, which may start with duel use exports, visa sanctions, will eventually grow to more serious sanctions.

And the Iranians are going to have to feel the pain - the Iranian government -of that kind of concerted action by the international community and by the isolation that comes with it. Iran is not like North Korea. North Korea seems to thrive in its isolation, or at least glory in it. Iran doesn't.

It has an integrated economy with Europe and with the Middle East. It cannot afford to be in a situation where it's an international pariah because it's trying to build a nuclear weapons program.

So I can't guarantee sanctions will work, but all of us, Russia, China, the Europeans, the United States all believe it's best the way forward. And after all, we're seeking a diplomatic solution here. We're trying to make diplomacy work. And so we've tried to give some positive incentives for Iran as well as the negatives incentives of sanctions. We would just hope they'd chose that positive path, but it doesn't look like they're going to head down that positive path, unfortunately.

CONAN: In pursuit of a diplomatic solution, could at some point the military option be on the table? Could that be part of the negotiations?

Undersecretary BURNS: Well, President Bush has said all along that as president, he's not going to take the military option off the table. And that just makes, that's just good common sense. I think everyone understands that. This morning in his press conference, the president said we are looking for a diplomatic solution. We're trying to make - I think he said we're trying to make diplomacy work. And so this is our diplomatic strategy to try to reason with the Iranians, but our patience cannot be unlimited.

What Iran wants to do, obviously, what their design is, tactically - they're trying to delay and delay and delay so that they continue their nuclear research. They've admitted they're trying to string centrifuges together in a cascade in their experimental research at Natanz. If they can experiment with 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 centrifuges in a cascade, that would give them the scientific knowledge to develop a nuclear device. We need to stop them before they get there.

And so diplomacy, in this case, is designed to arrest their nuclear development and to bring them to the negotiating table. But if they don't respond to that, of course, then, of course, we'll have to consider a variety of other means. But we're giving diplomacy a very, very strong emphasis here, and we have been for the last year and a half.

CONAN: Secretary Burns, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

Undersecretary BURNS: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs. He joined us from his office at the State Department here in Washington, D.C. When we return, we'll be rejoined by our guests Trita Parsi and Dominique Moisi to see what they made of the secretary's remarks about negotiations with Iran and where that leads us.

We'll also be going to the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. This week, the digital diet: information you can get, well, print-free.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Saddam Hussein's second death penalty trial began in Baghdad today. Hussein and six of his former commanders are tried for what prosecutors have called a barbarous campaign. They killed tens of thousands of ethnic Kurds in the late 1980s.

And in London, 11 people have been charged in the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic jetliners. Eleven other suspects remain in custody but have not yet been charged. One person was released without charge.

Details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, the end of the housing boom. Sales on a national level dropped this spring, though prices and trends still depend on where you live. We'll talk about what the fall in the housing market means to you and the economy as a whole.

And next Monday at this time, the Diaspora of Hurricane Katrina. We'll hear from Gulf Coast residents who left, where they are now, what life's been like one year after Katrina. If you fled the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Katrina, send us your story. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org. Please put Katrina Diaspora in the subject line. Again, the e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And now let's continue our conversation about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Our guests are Trita Parsi, Middle East specialist and author of the forthcoming book Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S. Also, Dominique Moisi, senior advisor at the French Institute for International Relations.

And, Trita, let me begin with you. According to what we just heard from Secretary Burns, not a lot of movement on the U.S. side.

Mr. PARSI: Not a lot of movement on the U.S. side, and I think what we're talking about here, about going to the security council and such is what a lot of people had expected. The problem is not really anyone thinks this is going to be successful.

I've spoken to a lot of European diplomats. They're concerned about this because they know very well that it's not going to really lead to anything particular. And as our French colleague mentioned, the conclusion is that sooner or later this will draw the West into a military conflict with Iran. And then the question is if that is the alternative, why can't negotiations take place without any preconditions? If the alternative is so bad that we would face yet a third of fourth conflict in the Middle East with a country that is far greater, far bigger, far more powerful than any of the countries that there's been conflicts in so far, why can't negotiations be tried without any preconditions first?

CONAN: And, Dominique Moisi, is that what you're hearing at all in Europe?

Ms. MOISI: Yes. But I think there is now a different tune. Probably something slightly closer to the view of the United States. After the war in Lebanon, the conclusion that many Europeans have derived is that never should the present regime in Tehran be allowed to have access to nuclear weapons. Because given what they said, given they way they behave, one cannot exclude that one day they might use those weapons.

And so I would say that before the war in Lebanon, the European vision was the nuclear Iran is a catastrophe, but the war with Iran is an even greater catastrophe. I think today they are more nuanced, and they would say a war with Iran is a catastrophe. But a nuclear Iran is an immense catastrophe, too.

So this is an evolution which I think is a direct result of the war in Lebanon. It has strengthened Hezbollah, but it has diminished the image - so to speak, if that could be done - of Iran.

CONAN: Trita?

Mr. PARSI: Well, the approach that Europe has taken for the last year or so has been one in which they have basically gone very close to the American position of saying that Iran cannot have any enrichment whatsoever on its soil. The question, however, is that very tough stance is actually driving us toward this conflict. I've spoken to a lot of Europeans who have said you know, at the end of the day, if the Iranians were to have a very limited enrichment program on its soil under the strictest possible IAEA inspections…

CONAN: What might be described as a face-saving enrichment potential.

Mr. PARSI: Face saving, exactly. It would be sufficient. It would avoid the situations that our French colleague mentioned. It would avoid a nuclear Iran, and would also avoid a conflict with Iran. That approach, however, has not been significantly pursued, partly because of the fact that the United States has taken a very, very strict position of saying absolutely no enrichment.

CONAN: Mm hmm. If a very small - symbolic almost - enrichment program was allowed, Dominique Moisi, would that find favor, do you think, in Europe?

Mr. MOISI: Yes. But at the same time - and this is where I disagree probably with your guest in Washington - is that by the end of the day, there is a conviction in Paris, in Washington, in London, in Berlin, and probably in Moscow and in Beijing that what the Iranian want is a nuclear bomb, is the nuclear weapon. And the problem by the end of the day is that an absolute regime with ideas that are so extreme cannot be given the absolute weapon.

This is the connection between the nature of the regime and the nature of the weapon that is at the core of the problem. And of course to a low, a moderate Iran to have access to the nuclear energy would be perfectly acceptable. I would even go as far as saying that a normal regime would probably be allowed to have small amount of nuclear weapon. By the end of the day India is a nuclear power. Even Pakistan is a nuclear power. But the key to the problem is to meet at interaction, interconnection between the absolute weapon and the absolute nature of the Iranian regime, not right now.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Dominique?

Mr. PARSI: I think this is where the problem really lies. We have stopped to think creatively about the solution. Instead, we're going towards somewhat simplistic categorizations of the different actors in this equation. At the end of the day, there are technical solutions that are face-saving and that would allow us to avoid both of the scenarios that our French colleague mentioned -both the fact that the Iranians would be able to get nuclear weapons, and both the fact that this current path seems to be a slippery slope towards war.

Without thinking creatively, without looking at this issue beyond just do we like this other side or not, we're going to be on a slippery slope towards war and that's very sad.

CONAN: Trita Parsi, thanks very much for being with us today. Trita Parsi joined us here in Studio 3A.

Mr. PARSI: Thank you.

CONAN: The author of the forthcoming book Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States. Dominique Moisi, appreciate your time there in Normandy. Thank you very much.

Mr. MOISI: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Dominique Moisi is senior advisor of the French Institute for International Relations. And when we come back, the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page.

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