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London Talks on Iran Nuclear Program Inconclusive


In this part of the program, we turn to Iran and a conversation with a diplomat once held hostage there about the challenges of dealings with that country.

First, the U.S., Europe, Russia and China have not yet settled on what the next step will be in their effort to stop Iran's controversial nuclear activities.

Meeting in London yesterday, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, did not reach agreement on a package of incentives and disincentives for Iran.

Iran's government has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent days, while it waits for the offer.

NPR's Mike Shuster reports.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

The goal of all those participating in the London meeting - the U.S., Britain, Russia, France, China and Germany - was to prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium. The London meeting was meant to put the final touches on an offer of economic incentives, including peaceful nuclear technology, but which also includes the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions if Iran doesn't accept.

At least publicly, the Iranian position has been firm for months. Iran won't accept any package that deprives it of its rights as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to Foreign Ministry official Mohammad Fardi al-Fard(ph).

Mr. MOHAMMAD FARDI AL-FARD (Foreign Ministry, Iran): The major point is to recognition of our right to have nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. And, of course, use all the means to have this use of nuclear energy, including enrichment of uranium inside the Iranian territory. If the package that they are talking about includes that right that we have, of course, everything is possible.

SHUSTER: The Iranian position has not budged, in part because the United Nations Security Counsel is divided about what to do, with Russia and China effectively blocking the U.S. effort to punish Iran. But there is some discomfort here about the package of incentives and disincentives under discussion. Rahman Garamanpur(ph), of the semi-official Center for Strategic Research, sees Europe's willingness to threaten sanctions as evidence that it's has moved closer to the U.S.

Mr. RAHMAN GARAMANPUR (Center for Strategic Research): In the last E.U. proposal, Iranians supposed that E.U. acts independent form United States of America. One of the main problems of E.U.'s recent proposal is that E.U. has talked about these incentives, and this may be an obstacle for starting negotiations - more negotiations between Iran and E.U.

SHUSTER: Still, Europe's willingness to consider sanctions may be having an affect on Iranian thinking. Some Iranian officials have been hinting for several months that they would like to talk directly to the U.S. about the nuclear impasse.

Yesterday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after holding talks a few days ago with Ali Larijani, head of Iran's National Security Council. Larijani has stated publicly he would like direct contacts with the Bush administration. White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday the Iranian feelers are evidence the U.S. pressure is working.

But Rahman Garamanpur urged the U.S. to understand that the Iranian government does not speak with just one voice.

Mr. GARAMANPUR: From our perspective, the people may appear as unified. But in the domestic politics they have different ideas. And I think in finding a solution to the present impasse, it is necessary to regard the different voices inside Iran.

SHUSTER: The package under negotiation may include an offer to build a light water nuclear reactor in Iran, but could also threaten to cut off supplies of gasoline to Iran. Iran imports some 40 percentage of its gasoline, a large portion of that from Europe.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants better wants better information about those different voices inside Iran. So she has set up an Iran office in the State Department. She hopes to boost the number of Iran experts on her staff, here and abroad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.