Iran Nuclear NewsInternational talks on Iran's nuclear program begin

International talks on Iran’s nuclear program begin


ImageLos Angles Times: The negotiations in Geneva involve Iran and six other countries. U.S. officials expect 'an extraordinarily difficult process' but may speak directly with Iran's representatives.

The negotiations in Geneva involve Iran and six other countries. U.S. officials expect 'an extraordinarily difficult process' but may speak directly with Iran's representatives.

By Paul Richter and Christi Parsons

October 1, 2009 | 2:22 a.m.

Reporting from Washington and Geneva

ImageIranian officials sat down with diplomats of six great powers at a secluded villa on the outskirts of Geneva today to try to relieve growing international pressure over Tehran's nuclear program.

In a gathering that some officials believe could be a turning point in the long saga over Iran's nuclear ambitions, Iranian official Saeed Jalili sat across from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. At Solana's right was U.S. diplomat William Burns.

While U.S. officials said they expected the session to last all day and perhaps lead to another meeting, officials from other delegations said the schedule at Villa Le Saugy was intentionally flexible. Some said there was a chance that the Iranians might simply declare that they intended to press ahead with their program, though most officials believe that Iran feels strong pressure to respond to world concerns.

With the disclosure last week that Iran is building a secret nuclear facility, and the world uproar over last June's disputed election results, "they may feel they need to show themselves to be more interested in cooperation," said one European official. "It's fine to be defiant but Iran does not want to be isolated."

Some analysts believe Iran's strategy today may be to try to convince the Russian delegation, headed by Sergei Ryabkov, that it is willing to cooperate at least at a minimum level. Russia has been a defender of Iran, and might be the most likely to argue that minimal cooperation was enough to justify further meetings instead of a turn to discussions on tougher economic sanctions.

But U.S. and Western European officials are likely to be more wary of Iranian attempts to run out the clock.

U.S. officials, arriving Wednesday for the multinational talks, said the session might include a one-on-one discussion between Iranians and Americans, a rarity since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 ruptured ties between Washington and Tehran.

A senior Obama administration official told reporters that today's scheduled daylong meeting involving the U.S., Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany may also include individual talks between Iranians and representatives of the other countries.

Nonetheless, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol, played down prospects of Iran making concessions regarding its nuclear ambitions.

"It's safe to predict this is going to be an extraordinarily difficult process," he said.

American officials, he said, were seeking "practical, tangible steps" to show that Iran was willing to live up to its treaty obligations. The Americans hoped for a "process" for dealing with Iran, he said.

In Washington, a second administration official said the process should involve dates and a "tempo" for talks and agreements.

"We're looking for tangible kinds of moves by them," the official said. "This can't be a phony process. This can't be a process where they go through the motions."

The meeting will not focus on the question of whether Iran will face new sanctions if it does not agree to international demands for openness about its nuclear program. "This is the engagement track," the official said, "not the pressure track."

The talks in Geneva come less than a week after revelations of a new Iranian installation that U.S. officials said was designed for enriching uranium in secret. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes, but the U.S. and its allies believe that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was allowed to visit Washington this week, using a rare trip outside the New York area to go to a diplomatic office that is overseen by the Pakistanis on behalf of Iran. The State Department said Mottaki was not meeting with any administration officials and that his visit was "straightforward."

The second administration official said the government did not want to engage in a "petty back and forth" by blocking Mottaki's visit.

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