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While the forthcoming talks – which would include British, French, German, Russian, and Chinese officials – signify an important diplomatic shift in Iran-US relations, US officials say their expectations for any major breakthroughs are "extremely low."
Iran said this weekend that it will only discuss its contentious nuclear program "should conditions be ripe," an apparent climbdown from its refusal to discuss the issue at all. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently said his country would never stop its production of enriched uranium.
The US insists it will raise the topic during any talks. "This may not have been a topic that they wanted to be brought up but I can assure that it's a topic that we'll bring up," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Saturday.
Mr. Obama has expressed interest in reopening the channels of communication between Iran and the US since his 2008 presidential candidacy, but The Times of London reports that indications that Russia would not support any new sanctions regarding Iran's nuclear program helped bring Americans to the table at this particular moment.
As officials work to set a date for the talks, the continued US focus on Iran's nuclear program has irked many Iranians who insist the program is for power generation only, not weapons. In an article titled "US to hold talks with Iran with cliché mentality" on the website of Iran's state-funded Press TV, the news agency highlighted recent United Nations reports that confirmed the country is not developing nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, it criticized US officials who persist in discussing the issue.
[Obama's] administration has taken a stance against Iran's peaceful nuclear program signaling that Washington's politicians will attend the talks with their minds already made up.
Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said on Saturday that "since the beginning of the Iranian nuclear case, Washington has misjudged the situation, drawn up a wrong strategy, and tried to feed it to other states."
Some UN officials have grown increasingly frustrated with the Western focus on Iran's nuclear program. One senior UN official has even compared Western attitudes toward Iran's nuclear program with the lead up to the Iraq war when the media and government leaders acted on misinformation about Iraq's nuclear program, reports Newsweek.
In a private e-mail sent last week to nuclear experts and obtained by NEWSWEEK, Tariq Rauf, a senior official with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, wrote that the mainstream media are repeating mistakes from 2003, when they "carried unsubstantiated stories on Iraq and WMD – the same mistakes are being repeated re IAEA and Iran." Rauf added that "the hype is likely originating from certain [known] sources." The message does not specify the sources, but US and European officials have previously accused Israel of exaggerating Iran's nuclear progress.
Iran has called for "comprehensive, all-encompassing, and constructive" talks on a variety of issues, with nuclear disarmament among them. The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, reports that a broad discussion on disarmament could provide a gateway into discussing Iran's nuclear program. Iranian officials have also offered to discuss the causes of terrorism, how to prevent another global financial crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian problem, UN Security Council reform, and global democracy promotion.
Should the US consider the talks a failure, Politico blogger Laura Rozen writes that they will still play an important role in bolstering America's image abroad by demonstrating the willingness of the US to fully pursue all diplomatic venues available to resolve disputes.