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Iran nuclear talks in Geneva: What is Tehran's strategy?

At a midday break, diplomats said the tone has been "civil" but a US official says Iran's delegation lacks the 'cohesion and confidence' to make a deal.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 1, 2009

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, (2nd l.) sits with members of its delegation at the opening of the Geneva nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers Thursday.

Keystone Dominic Favre/AP


Istanbul, Turkey

Iran says it has come to Geneva with "goodwill" for talks Thursday with six world powers, and diplomats confirmed at midday a "cordial and businesslike" tone in the first session.

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"We want these talks to be successful and we want logic to dominate the atmosphere of the talks," an unnamed Iranian official told Reuters.

But Tehran's recent declaration of a secret second nuclear enrichment facility and new missile tests this week will likely affect its strategy in the meeting with the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China – the permanent five members of the UN Security Council – plus Germany, a group known as P5+1.

"Now with the second installation revealed, it may be that [the Iranians] allow more transparency in some of the recognized [nuclear] sites, in order to divide the P5+1 and to stop the momentum against them," says Shahram Chubin, a Carnegie Endowment nonproliferation specialist based in Geneva.

US Undersecretary of State William Burns is heading the American delegation at the first such high-level talks since President Barack Obama took office on promises to pursue dialogue with Tehran. Unlike the last such meeting in July 2008 – held during the final months of George W. Bush's presidency – Mr. Burns has been given authority to engage the Iranians directly in what is expected to be a one-day affair, but could extend through Friday.

But Iran's domestic political scene has changed dramatically since the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which sparked the biggest mass protests since the early years of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. The bloody crackdown that followed left 72 dead, according to an opposition count, and thousands imprisoned.

The postelection conflict – and accusations of fraud and torture and rape in prison – has exposed deep divisions among Iran's political elite, and raised unresolved questions for many Iranians about the legitimacy of the regime.

The opposition, led by the defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, has decried Stalin-style show trials of scores of its top supporters, which have aimed to prove that Iran was the target of a "velvet revolution" backed by the US, Britain, and Israel to bring down the Islamic Republic.