How Big a Threat Is Iran? Diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster breaks down the latest developments in Iran's relationship with the U.S.

How Big a Threat Is Iran?

How Big a Threat Is Iran?

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Diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster breaks down the latest developments in Iran's relationship with the U.S.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. We're going to stay foreign a while longer. NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster is back with us. Mike, hi.

MIKE SHUSTER: Hi, Alex.

CHADWICK: We've asked you to look at these U.S.-Iran war talks that we've been hearing again. We'll get there in a moment. First, we've just heard a lot about Iraq and Muqtada al-Sadr. When he is dodging the U.S. in Iraq he is often in Iran. How close is he with the Iranians? Is he their guy?

SHUSTER: I'm afraid that that's not a question that's easy to answer. It's probably not true that he is their guy in the sense that he and his movement is the sole political and military force that Iran supports in Iraq. We know that's not true because Iran formally supports the government in Baghdad of Nouri al-Maliki, his party, the Dawa Party, his allies in the government and the Hakim family that lead the other key Shiite group. The Hakim family has their own militia, the Badr militia that's actually a part of the defense ministry. So, you can't say that Iran solely supports Muqtada al-Sadr. But Iran's - it's fairly clear after five years of war in Iraq supports different Shiite groups to different degrees depending upon the level of violence, and mayhem, and chaos in Iraq. It's probably also true that different elements of the Iranian government and military support to a different degree different elements of the political and military scene, Shiite scene, in Iraq as well.

CHADWICK: OK, this is obviously a big issue with the U.S. government. Here's another one. Iran last week announced that it has added thousands of these centrifuges, which will help it process uranium. That produced a couple of political columns over the weekend saying we have to take the Iranian nuclear threat more seriously, maybe protect Israel more aggressively, and there's suddenly more talk about we're going to go to war with Iran or we should? What is the level of that thinking?

SHUSTER: Well, actually I think that was also stimulated by the Petraeus and Crocker testimony in Washington last week in which they also focused on Iran and Iran's meddling in Iraq as a primary concern of the U.S. military in Iraq. What the Iranian leaders actually said is that they intend to build 6,000 more advanced centrifuges. This will obviously take some time. But yes, it's clear that the United States and the Bush administration and its allies in Europe are greatly concerned about Iran's unwillingness to compromise on this issue of uranium enrichment on their territory. On the other hand, there have been some signals from Iran in recent days that they might be open to renegotiate this or negotiate again or might be willing to put some new proposals on the table. And the United States and the Europeans have recognized that that in fact may be coming. There's always talk when the Iranians talk about their nuclear program. There's always talk of military action, but there are other things going on as well.

CHADWICK: If there is a needle on a gauge, the Bush administration will attack Iran, it will not. Has that needle moved in the last week?

SHUSTER: If it has it has moved by a little bit, not by much, and it's pretty much down below 50/50 I'd say for some time.

CHADWICK: NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster on Iran. Thank you, Mike.

SHUSTER: Thank you, Alex.

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