Obama upbeat after UN/Iran talks, but wants more than smoke on the water

By Branko Brkic 2 October 2009

US President Barack Obama last night called on Iran to take "constructive" steps after crucial nuclear talks in Geneva, warning that Washington was ready to pump up the pressure if Tehran delayed.

In a first reaction to yesterday’s meeting between world powers and the Islamic republic, Obama said Washington had a set of clear expectations from Iran if US engagement was to continue.

“Today’s meeting was a constructive beginning, but it must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government,” Obama said. “We’re not going to talk for the sake of talking. If Iran does not live up to its obligations, the US will not continue to negotiate indefinitely and we are prepared to move toward increased pressure.”

Obama has made engagement with antagonistic nations a central part of his foreign policy, but Iran had spurned such talks until now. These talks may well be the most substantial between the US and Iran since relations were ruptured three decades ago. Totally coincidentally, Iranian finance minister Manouchehr Mottaki and his wife had received last-minute visas to come to the US. Though no meetings were held he is the first senior Iranian official to visit Washington since relations were cut.

The chief Iranian negotiator in Geneva, Saeed Jalili, was expected to urge acceptance of a proposal to launch talks on a broad range of areas, including Afghanistan and reform of the UN. By contrast, US officials want to focus on Iran’s nuclear developments. Americans argue disclosure of the hidden uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom has given them some leverage. “Iran was supposed to inform us on the day it was decided to construct the facility. They have not done that,” Mohamed ElBaradei told CNN.

US officials will ask that the International Atomic Energy Agency has free access to the facility, its staff and documents, within weeks. Iran has proposed the US supply enriched uranium for medical research as a confidence-building proposal and though the IAEA is considering this, the US will not do so.  Beyond the diplomats from Iran, the six Security Council and Germany representatives, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is expected to be involved as well.

The initial package of incentives in 2006 included only a vague reference to Iran’s security concerns because the Bush administration insisted that section of the offer be largely gutted. By contrast, a revised package last year, reaffirmed by the Obama administration this year, pledges to negotiate extensive security commitments, including supporting Iran in “playing an important and constructive role in international affairs”.

In any case, the Iranians insist they will never suspend their enrichment activities. The world, meanwhile, waits with baited breath that the Geneva talks are not just smoke and mirrors.

By Brooks Spector


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