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U.S. may speak directly with Iran at talks

The negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program scheduled for Thursday in Geneva involve six countries plus Iran. U.S. officials expect 'an extraordinarily difficult process.'

October 01, 2009|Paul Richter and Christi Parsons

GENEVA AND WASHINGTON — U.S. officials, arriving in Geneva for multinational talks with Iran on its nuclear program, said Wednesday that 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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