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.
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The violence has weakened Iran's hand in any negotiations, analysts say, and lowered expectations that Obama's two letters to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – along with an overture to the Iranian people last March – will bear much fruit now.Skip to next paragraph
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"There's no sense that the Iranian team has the cohesion or confidence to make any kind of deal," says a US official in the region with knowledge of the negotiations. "Most people are prejudging that it's not going to go anywhere."
'An opportunity and a test'
Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said before leaving Tehran that the talks were an "opportunity and a test." Chosen by Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Jalili is a known hard-liner, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War who Western diplomats have said specializes in "monologue."
A host of issues – chief among them continued confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, and the possibility of "crippling sanctions" – have raised the stakes for diplomats on both sides.
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in August that Iran now has 8,000 centrifuges spinning to enrich uranium, to create nuclear material that can be used to fuel power plants – as Iran says is all it wants to do – or, if enriched to a far higher degree, for use in weapons, which some Western governments suspect is Iran's hidden purpose.
Those suspicions were heightened last week by Iran's acknowledgement that it had been working secretly for years on a smaller uranium enrichment facility, a belated admission that was "on the wrong side of the law" and a "setback to the principle of transparency," according to Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency. The facility is adjacent to a base of the Revolutionary Guard, the same elite force that oversaw testing this week of Iran's most advanced medium-range missiles, which – like previous missiles – are capable of reaching Israel as well as US military bases in the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad on Wednesday slammed world leaders who had called for quick inspections of the new site: "Who are you to tell the [IAEA] and Iran what to do?"
What the U.S. may offer
In the lead-up to the Geneva meeting, both sides played up their own agendas. The Iranians said its nuclear program was nonnegotiable and therefore not on the table. But US and Europeans emphasized the need for progress on the nuclear front.
UN Security Council resolutions – backed up by three rounds of sanctions – require Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activities. But Iran has stated categorically it will not stop the program, and with so many centrifuges already working, analysts say Washington may have little choice but to accept the program under exceptionally stringent safeguards.