U.S., Allies Discuss Approach to Iran's Nuclear Ambitions Foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, China and the European Union meet in Vienna to discuss an impasse over Iran's nuclear program after Tehran rejected a fresh U.S. demand that it stop enriching uranium. The foreign ministers are expected to complete work on a new package of punishments and rewards for Iran.
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U.S., Allies Discuss Approach to Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

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U.S., Allies Discuss Approach to Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

U.S., Allies Discuss Approach to Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The United States and five other world powers have reached an agreement on Iran. They've Okayed a package of incentives and penalties aimed at persuading Iran to curb its nuclear program. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice finalized the deal today with the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain. NPR's Rob Gifford joins us on the line from Vienna, where the meeting is taking place. And Rob, I want you to tell us what exactly was announced today, and whether there's anything new in it.

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Well, the announcement was actually very short. All of the senior diplomats came out and faced the press, and it was the new British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett who made the statement. It was only about a minute long, and it was not really anything new. Essentially, this was to back up the U.S., to stand together to support the United States and Condoleezza Rice, specifically, who was there in her announcement of yesterday - of this major change in U.S. policy. They didn't go into any of the details of the package of the incentives that they might be offering Iran to come to the table.

SIEGEL: They didn't go into the incentives. What about disincentives? What if Iran refuses to halt uranium enrichment?

GIFFORD: That they did - Margaret Beckett did mention briefly. It was nothing new, it's what's been known all along, and that is the major stick looming behind all of this. And that is going to the U.N. Security Council to get some kind of sanctions imposed if, indeed, the Iranian government - as it seems to be doing so far - rejects the U.S. offer for talks with specifically, the U.S. condition for talks, which is that it suspends its uranium enrichment.

SIEGEL: Now, China and Russia were at the Vienna meeting, but did they really sign onto this? Would they really agree to those further steps in the Security Council?

GIFFORD: Well, that's really the big question, that the Chinese and the Russians are here, and they have signed on to this change of plan from the U.S. The big question is, really, what happens if Iran does reject it? Because even though they signed on to this statement today, that it would then go back to the U.N. Security Council. Really, there seemed to be very few people - experts in this - who believe that the Chinese and the Russians would go down the road of sanctions. So, we'd have to cross that bridge when we came to it, but it's not at all a done deal. If the Iranians turn this down, there really would be sanctions put in place further down the road.

SIEGEL: Mm hmm. Well, at least for now, the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, the U.K. are saying the same thing: what happens next?

GIFFORD: What happens now is that the Europeans will present these proposals, this new package to the Iranians. U.S. officials have said just after this announcement today that the Iranians have several weeks in which to consider these proposals, and we really need to see whether the Iranian government wants to take hold of this, wants to take this offer. We've seen - many people are saying that these, that the pragmatists who are coming out in Washington on top here and affecting a change in U.S. policy, perhaps in Iran, we might see the same. Though, I have to say - from the people I've spoken to - there are not a huge number of optimists around.

SIEGEL: And again, optimism here would be that some time over the next several weeks - not too immediate - the Iranians would agree to suspend uranium enrichment.

GIFFORD: That's right. And one of the crucial issues here is that it's not a permanent suspension that is being sought in the first instance. It could be a temporary suspension, so that both sides could go on to talk further about something more permanent, and that would be a first step. But today, the foreign minister of Iran rejected the U.S. condition, so at the moment, it's not looking very positive.

SIEGEL: Okay, Rob. Thank you.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Rob Gifford speaking to us from Vienna.

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