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Nuclear talks: Iran agrees to meet US, world powers twice more in October

Iran appeared to understand there was new urgency on the nuclear issue, agreeing at the Geneva talks to open its second enrichment facility to inspectors.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 2, 2009

European Union foreign policy Chief Javier Solana (l.) is seen with Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili at the opening of the Geneva talks between Iran and six world powers on Thursday.

Dominic Favre/ Keystone/ AP


Istanbul, Turkey

Iran and world powers agreed in Geneva on Thursday to "intensify dialogue" on Iran's nuclear program and other issues, by meeting twice more in October. But though both sides seemed cautiously pleased, their agendas remained far apart.

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The first priority of US and other Western officials is to stop – or at least limit – Iran's nuclear progress, with the threat of "crippling sanctions" if Tehran does not comply.

Iran's focus is on a host of broader problems, from security and weapons of mass destruction to economic meltdown and drug trafficking. Its previously released five-page "proposal" to help retool the global order, which the Iranian delegation invoked in Geneva, makes no mention of Iran's nuclear program.

Still, the galvanizing effect of the revelation of a new enrichment facility on the US, Britain, and France to press Iran harder to resolve the nuclear impasse or face more sanctions, seems to have caught the attention of Tehran. Despite a host of internal problems in Iran after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contested reelection in June, the Iranian team in Geneva appeared engaged to Western negotiators.

Asked if he felt the Iranians understood that this was a "different moment," that it might be "time to talk more," European foreign policy chief Javier Solana replied: "Yes, I think the [Iranian] delegation came knowing it was a different setting than in previous meetings."

Cautioning that the meeting was "only a start" after a 15-month hiatus, Mr. Solana said that the meeting was "enhanced by the full participation" of the United States for the first time.

US Undersecretary of State William Burns held direct discussions with Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili – the highest level of such contact for 30 years – during the meeting between Iran and the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1.

Despite that high-profile marker, it had not been clear going into the meeting how much progress would be made since both sides had very different agendas. Critical for Iran was the fact that talks are now set to continue, and that positions that appeared impossible to reconcile – at least according to the sharp rhetoric from both sides beforehand – are now in play.

"Jalili was here to break the ice; I think setting the stage for an Ahmadinejad meeting with Obama or some other big shot," said an Iranian journalist covering the talks in Geneva. "These guys don't have authority ... they just have enough to build the road. Someone else has to drive it home."

"I think they can convince the Americans to reduce their expectations," added the journalist, who asked not to be named.

Iran to open second enrichment facility to inspectors

American expectations were low already, to the point where US officials this week began to speak of President Barack Obama's several overtures to Iran this year in the past tense as a policy effort.