4:07am

Mon March 17, 2014
Middle East

Negotiators Gather In Vienna For Talks On Iran's Nukes

Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 10:59 am

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's talk now about how one international standoff can impact another one. U.S. negotiators are joining those from Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia in Vienna this week for another round of meetings on Iran. These are the first talks on Iran since Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, which angered all of its partners in the so-called 5+1 group that's negotiating with Iran. NPR's Peter Kenyon will be heading to Vienna later today to cover the talks, and he joins us now from Istanbul. Peter, good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So, technically speaking, the Iran talks have no connection at all to the crisis in Ukraine, but what can we say about how Ukraine might affect how this coalition can remain unified?

KENYON: Well, a senior Obama administration official has already sounded a warning of sorts, expressing the hope that the, quote, "incredibly difficult situation in Ukraine" will not create issues for this negotiation. The official added that whatever actions are coming now from Washington and the EU - a reference to possible sanctions, other measures to isolate Russia - Washington hopes that Moscow's response to those will not put the Iran talks at risk.

Now, this is the same official who generally talks about the unity of the 5+1 group and its determination to try to reach a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran, and despite some different views on how to proceed, but clearly these tensions between the U.S., Europe and Russia over Ukraine and Crimea are now on people's minds as these talks resume.

GREENE: And, of course, it's mentioning, Peter, another member of this group that doesn't always find total agreement with the United States is China. I mean, they're usually seen as closest to Russia. Has that changed the dynamic for keeping them on board at all?

KENYON: Well, this is an interesting question. China has generally followed Russia's lead on the Iran issue, especially in the U.N. Security Council, but they do have some differences with Moscow, and they generally tend to stay in the background and don't do much on the record. But it will be interesting to see if the Beijing delegation has some independent reaction to these growing tensions on the international side.

GREENE: And Peter, you mentioned this Obama administration official saying that the tensions over Ukraine might not affect this round of talks. Is that because the focus is still on very technical things right now? Which I could imagine, you know, insulating the talks from political tensions.

KENYON: I think that's probably right, and that's certainly the hope among those who've spend a long time trying to get these highly complex talks to this point. Last November's interim agreement with Iran was the first real breakthrough for nuclear diplomacy in a decade. And while these talks for a comprehensive accord are much more difficult and success is by no means assured, the alternative, should they fail, could well be heightened tensions, a greater prospect of a military strike. And that kind of talk is really faded into the background over the past several months.

Now, the 5+1 has displayed remarkable unity thus far, and officials say they're taking great pains to operate as transparently as possible. They talk to each other all the time. Frankly, at these meetings, there's often more gatherings among the 5+1 than between the international and Iranian sides. So they have the discipline and the habits to keep things on track. We'll just have to see if these tensions over Ukraine intrude.

GREENE: And Iran has to be watching these tensions. Have they said anything about how that might change the talks?

KENYON: So far, Iran's behaving as if this is just another round in a long process. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state TV that this will be a more difficult round of talks, but that's because of the details that they're going to be getting into on key issues. A couple that Iranian media mentioned are the Arak reactor, the heavy water reactor and Iran's desire to keep enriching uranium. And, of course, Iran wants to keep talking about sanctions and when they might be lifted.

So, I think if there's going to be anytime when Iran might try to exploit differences among the 5+1 countries, that will probably come more towards the end of the talks, assuming that they can get within striking distance of an agreement.

GREENE: All right. We've been talking to NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is headed to Vienna this week for talks on Iran's nuclear program. Peter, thanks, as always.

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