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Talks Over Iran's Nuclear Program Resume In Kazakhstan


We have been hearing a lot about North Korea and nuclear weapons lately. Well, nuclear negotiators have just wrapped up a first day of talks on Iran's nuclear program. Tehran does not have nuclear weapons and insists it doesn't want them, but six world powers say the country must do more to assure the world that its program is entirely peaceful. We spoke earlier with NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the talks. Peter, good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what we've heard from the Obama administration is that they will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that they're hoping that diplomacy can bring that result. I mean, is there a chance that these negotiations are the type of diplomacy that might work?

KENYON: Well, that's become even more in question very recently. The talks opened with the international side waiting to see Iran's response to a proposal that had been placed before it several weeks ago here at the first Almaty talks. But as the session broke for lunch, the deputy Iranian negotiator, Ali Bagheri, made a rare appearance before the media.

He said the head negotiator, Saeed Jalili, had presented the six powers with what he called specific plans related to a five-point proposal Iran had broached back in Moscow last June. Now, this complicates things quite a lot, and part of the problem is it was a very cryptic briefing, with only very vague comments from Mr. Bagheri. So we don't know exactly what was proposed, but there's a clear sign that Iran is trying to bring other issues into play again, as it has in the past - regional security issues, and a number of other things.

So an optimist might say this is Iran being cagey and calibrated, making a small step forward to match this small step made by the international side. But on the more negative side, you would also have to say this looks like Iran talking past the specific proposal, and that could suggest a long wait and a much harder row to hoe for the negotiators ahead.

GREENE: OK. So we get this briefing from the Iranians, but Peter, if we put aside the rhetoric and what Iran is saying, I mean, if we judge Iran by its recent actions, I mean, are we getting a clear picture of what their intent is?

KENYON: Iran and clarity are not actually things you hear very often in the same sentence, and that certainly was true today with their response. They have a way of being enigmatic and leaving many ambiguities on the table. They've done that in practice, as well as in their rhetoric. You can see that they have brought enhanced centrifuges in to enrich uranium at some of their plants. This is a problem for the IAEA, the U.N. watchdog.

On the other hand, they have slowed their processing of enrichment, which has made a lot of people happy, including the Israelis, who have been warning and have been very nervous about what they've been doing on the enrichment front. So, again, it's very difficult to read which way it's going to go, and there's so little trust in the West or in Israel for Tehran and vice versa, that they're laboring decades of mistrust and lack of communication.

GREENE: OK. So you're at this meeting in Kazakhstan. The Iranian side is there. One of the events that's coming up is a presidential election in Iran in June. And I guess I'm wondering: Does that add some urgency at all to these discussions?

KENYON: Well, it's hard to tell what effect that will have. It may slow things down, actually. But on the other hand, Ayatollah Khamenei will still be in charge when all is said and done, no matter who is the president. So, in theory, the negotiations could still go on at the same clip. And some in Tehran are already talking, however, about a possible new negotiating team, for instance, after the elections. So it may well be that we'll see a lull here for a few weeks.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Peter Kenyon, joining us from Almaty, Kazakhstan where he's covering ongoing talks on Iran's nuclear program. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.