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Geneva Meeting To Focus On Iran Nuclear Program


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


In Geneva tomorrow, the U.S. and five other world powers will begin a much anticipated dialogue with Iran. Its suspected nuclear program will top the agenda. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, it remains to be seen how Iran will respond.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The days leading up to the Iran talks didn't bode well for the diplomats involved. The confidence gap grew larger as the world learned of a second Iranian nuclear enrichment facility. And the Iranian revolutionary guards held two days of missile tests. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs was trying to use all that as a bit more leverage.

ROBERT GIBBS: And I think the onus is on the Iranians to show the world that the program that they have is for - is a peaceful program to create energy rather than a secret program for nuclear weapons.

KELEMEN: And if it doesn't, the administration is working with its partners in tomorrow's meeting - the European, Russians and Chinese - to tighten sanctions. Robert Hunter of the Rand Corporation says the U.S. is in a better position now to get slightly tougher sanctions, but he doubts that will make a difference.

ROBERT HUNTER: Quite frankly, sanctions are what, in the business, one calls a feel-good policy. It's not one that's likely to have any impact.

KELEMEN: And some sanctions could provide an unpopular Iranian government with a new rallying cry. The Rand expert argues that the U.S. should go into tomorrow's talks with a different agenda, focusing not just on the nuclear issue, but on terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan.

HUNTER: What I would like to see the administration add to the things they're already doing is absolute clarity that if Iran will do what we want it to do, then we will give them security guarantees. If they don't, we don't.

KELEMEN: Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation has also been calling for a rapprochement along the lines of the Nixon era thaw with China. But he says the Obama administration doesn't have a real diplomatic strategy.

FLYNT LEVERETT: The administration at this point is not really going into this Geneva meeting wanting to do a kind of Nixon-to-China opening with Iran. They want to go into this meeting and deliver ultimata.

KELEMEN: And that, he says, won't work. According to Leverett, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made clear at a dinner in New York last week that Iran will negotiate only if the U.S. is serious about resolving a full range of issues.

LEVERETT: President Ahmadinejad was very, very explicit about that, that, yes, we can talk about the nuclear issue or yes, we can talk about and cooperate on Afghanistan. But this needs to be embedded in a bigger, more comprehensive framework. And we need to be confident that the United States is really interested in a fundamentally different sort of relationship.

KELEMEN: But it is Iran that hasn't shown any interest in that, according to Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He says the Obama administration has done more than any other since the Iranian Revolution to try to turn the page.

KARIM SADJADPOUR: In his inauguration speech, he made it clear that he's interested in forging a new tone and context of the U.S.-Iran relationship. He sent notice, greetings to the Iranians. He privately sent two letters to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. This was unprecedented and we haven't really seen any signs of meaningful for reciprocation for the Iranians.

KELEMEN: Sadjadpour says, there have been no signs that Iran will be willing to curtail its nuclear ambitions or change its relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas.

SADJADPOUR: And we're dealing with a regime which has ceded enormous legitimacy at home. They brutalized their population the last three months. And I think that rather than making huge concessions to Iran at the moment, we should be treading it very carefully in our talks with them.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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