MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Tomorrow is the deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. Iran is not expected to comply. It has defied the U.N. action, which also imposes some economic sanctions on Iran's nuclear program. Today, Iran's president said his country is willing to discuss the issue so long as there are no preconditions to talks.
A key Iranian official is in Vienna to meet with the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA says Iran could be ready to enrich uranium on an industrial scale in six months to a year.
NPR's Mike Shuster joins us now. And Mike, what do we know about Iran's nuclear activities since the U.N. sanctions resolution was adopted in December?
MIKE SHUSTER: Well, Robert, it seems that they've speeded up their efforts to construct, particularly, a uranium enrichment facility - a large one - at a place called Natanz, which is south of Tehran. But there have been mixed reports about how successful they've been in speeding up this construction.
There were reports over the past two weeks that the place was filled with workers who were laying pipe and electrical equipment. And there are reports from some diplomats connected to the IAEA that they've begun to install a number of centrifuges, gas centrifuges, which is the technology that can enrich uranium.
But at the same time, we're coming up on the Iranian New Year soon. And it was a year ago that President Ahmadinejad predicted that they would have 3,000 gas centrifuges up and running by now. And, in fact, he had planned for last week some kind of theatrical event and a big announcement about their nuclear activities and they had to postpone it because they're way behind schedule and because they've had problems even in their pilot project with - some trouble with the small number of centrifuges that they have set up. So it's a mixed picture.
SIEGEL: But apart from whatever problems the Iranians might be having, there is an impression, at least, that there might be some disagreement at the highest levels of the Iranian regime over how to respond to the sanctions, and some -no some - toning down of rhetoric on this issue.
SHUSTER: That's true. I think President Ahmadinejad has toned down his rhetoric. But perhaps more importantly, since the December resolution from the Security Council that imposed sanctions on Iran and gave them this deadline, there are other leaders of Iran that have come out and suggested that perhaps running headlong into the international community and the Security Council may not be the best policy.
And, in fact, there have been some discussion about that in the Iranian press -in the conservative Iranian press - where before there had been no discussion at all. So there seems to be some disagreement now rather than consensus at the upper levels of the complex Iranian government.
SIEGEL: And what do people who follow this situation closely make of the latest twist, which is Russia, which is building a power plant in Iran, claiming that the Iranians are behind on their payments?
SHUSTER: This is very interesting. This is the Bushehr reactor on the Persian Gulf, and the Russians have been building it for the last 10 years. It's expected to be finished soon, and it was expected to - the Russians were expected to send nuclear fuel to get it up and running. And now the Russians are saying the Iranians aren't meeting their payments, and it's going to slow down and may not even start until next year.
This could be, in fact, that the Iranians are strapped for cash and are not making payments. Or it could be Russia's way of putting pressure on Iran to deal with the international community and with the resolution that's on the table with the U.N.
SIEGEL: And the U.S. pressure on Iran?
SHUSTER: Well, it's significant. Of course, there have been a lot of comments from senior Bush administration officials, including the president. And now, there is a second U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. At the same time, Bush administration officials say there's no intention of going to war over Iran. But clearly, this is an indication that there is some kind of course of diplomacy going on.
SIEGEL: Mike, I just want to try to get your sense of tomorrow's deadline. Is it a deadline on which all the sides have staked a great deal, or is it a deadline that one could easily postpone for a while and fudge in some way?
SHUSTER: The negotiations and the diplomacy with Iran have been fudged for a couple of years. And so, in fact, if there are indications - if the Russians and the Chinese on the one hand, or the Europeans on the other - see that there might be some crack in the Iranian position and the possibility of opening talks, there could be another fudge and certainly more delay.
SIEGEL: Thank you. It's NPR's Mike Shuster. Thanks, Mike.
SHUSTER: You're welcome, Robert.