Monday, September 14, 2009

Iran Agrees to Meeting on Nuclear Program By Jay Solomon~Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal

Iran Agrees to Meeting on Nuclear Program

VIENNA -- The Obama administration, hoping to persuade Tehran to curtail its nuclear program and initiate a dialogue that focuses on other issues, will have its first formal meeting since it took office with Iran on Oct. 1.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
European Pressphoto Agency

The four other United Nations Security Council permanent members -- China, Russia, France, and the U.K. -- along with Germany will participate in the meeting, which was brokered Monday in a call between Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, and Saeed Jalili, Iran's main nuclear negotiator.

The event, whose location hasn't been decided, won't be a "formal negotiation," a spokeswoman for Mr. Solana said. There will be no set agenda or specific goals. Instead, she said, it will serve as an opportunity to question Iran on a proposal it released last week calling for a discussion with the international community on a range of security and development issues.

Iranian officials said for the first time Monday that they would be willing to discuss elements of the country's nuclear program as part of a broader dialogue aimed at ending the threat of nuclear weapons globally.

"We have always stated that we are [in favor of] dialogue, but of course unconditional dialogue," the chief of Iran's atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency's annual conference. "It seems now that the environment is conducive towards this issue and...we are very hopeful that the dialogue which is going to be held next month will pave the way further for the future."

Key Points on Oct. 1 Meeting With Iran:

  • To take place at an undecided location, with U.S., France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany taking part.
  • Not a formal negotiation, the EU says, but a chance to sound out Iran about future discussions.
  • U.S. to press Tehran on its failure to concede to demands on nuclear issues in a proposal last week.
  • Iran says talks must be unconditional—and it is 'very hopeful' that they will 'pave the way further for the future.'

U.S. officials voiced frustration that the Iranian document ignored Washington's demand that Tehran cease enriching uranium and allow inspectors from the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, greater access to its nuclear installations.

"We plan to address this issue of their not living up to their obligations head on," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly. "We are not planning on starting a whole new process here."

Even at the best, the meeting won't lead to broad forceful sanctions against Iran. China has said it won't back sanctions. And last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia won't back any new rounds of sanctions. Western diplomats have said the U.S. will likely pursue a more narrow sanctions agreement just with European Union countries.

However, U.S. officials are eager to gain Iranian cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington also hopes Iran can support the Arab-Israeli peace process by cutting off support for militant groups fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. "I think this is an important first step in the discussion. We hope for the best," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday in Austria. He was attending the annual General Conference of the IAEA.

The U.S. estimates Iran has produced enough nuclear fuel for one atomic weapon, should it be enriched further into weapons-grade material -- though it could take years for Iran to make a nuclear warhead and develop the ability to use it on a missile.

[Javier Solana] Associated Press

Javier Solana

A U.S. intelligence report, released in 2007, alleged Iran had been experimenting in the weaponization of its nuclear technologies, before allegedly stopping the effort in 2003. The U.N. has been pressing Iran to answer questions about the alleged military dimensions of its nuclear program.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Iranian diplomats stressed again Monday that Tehran would never relinquish its right under the U.N.'s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to produce nuclear fuel.

Despite the Iranian stance, a White House official said the Obama administration agreed to go along with the talks to make sure -- in person -- that all avenues to talks have been exhausted.

"If we do not look at this as an opportunity to engage Iran directly to see if they are willing to discuss the nuclear program, we'd be making a mistake," said a White House official.

U.S. officials have said that they hope Iran might initially agree to a "freeze for freeze" arrangement. This would entail Tehran freezing its production of nuclear fuel at current levels in exchange for the U.S. and the U.N. holding back in pursuing new economic sanctions against Iran.

"What nations say in public is one thing," said Mr. Kelly, the State Department spokesman, referring to Iran's insistence it won't relent on its nuclear program. "What they say in private is another thing."

The Obama administration appears to be making an effort to show European allies that it is Tehran, and not Washington, that has been intransigent -- a perception the White House could later use in rallying support for new sanctions.

Iranian democracy activists warned that the U.S.'s diplomacy risked legitimizing Mr. Ahmadinejad's government at a time its mandate is being challenged inside Iran. Iran has continued to prosecute opposition supporters as part of a government effort to choke off a protest movement by Iranians who claim Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in June involved massive vote fraud. On Monday, six activists stood trial in Tehran on accusations of plotting to overthrow the clerical leadership.

"Our main concern is that any dealings with Tehran must have human-rights issues as the top, formal concern of the international community," said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Iranian officials have confirmed dozens of deaths during battles between protesters and security services after the polls.

—Chip Cummins, David Crawford and Peter Spiegel contributed to this article.

Write to Jay Solomon at

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A1


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