World Powers Invite Iran to Nuclear Talks

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The United States and five other world powers in April invited Iran to renewed talks to address international concerns over Tehran's nuclear program. The move came as Washington was finalizing a new Iran policy, which U.S. officials have indicated will include diplomatic outreach to Tehran. During an April 5 speech on arms control in Prague, President Barack Obama said his administration "will seek engagement with Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect."

Meanwhile, Iran celebrated its "National Nuclear Technology Day" April 9 by declaring that it has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle as it inaugurated a nuclear fuel manufacturing facility, with Iranian officials suggesting that such a development alters the terms for any diplomatic initiative.

U.S. to Join Nuclear Talks With Iran

In the first public statements revealing some of the conclusions from the ongoing U.S. policy review on Iran, U.S. officials indicated in April that Washington would break from previous practice and send a representative to all future meetings of a six-country dialogue with Tehran. During an April 8 press briefing, Department of State spokesperson Robert Wood expressed the U.S. commitment to the "P5+1 process" but explained "what is different is that the U.S. will join P5+1 discussions with Iran from now on."

The P5+1 process refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany, which have pursued a dual-track approach since 2006 to respond to Iran's nuclear program. The two tracks involve proposals for a negotiated resolution to concerns about the nuclear program and sanctions for Iran's failure to comply with UN obligations.

The six countries issued a statement April 8 warmly welcoming "the new direction of U.S. policy towards Iran" and indicating that they would formally invite Iran to take part in negotiations on its nuclear program with their representatives to "find a diplomatic solution to this critical issue."

The Bush administration had maintained that it would enter such talks only after Iran complied with UN Security Council demands to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities. It made an exception to this policy in June 2008 when Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns attended a discussion between the six countries and Iran. (See ACT, July/August 2008.) U.S. officials stated at that time that such participation would only occur once. Burns continues to serve as the key U.S. negotiator in the P5+1 process.

Obama has frequently indicated that the United States would be willing to enter negotiations with Iran "without preconditions," an apparent reference to the Bush administration's insistence that Iran first suspend certain nuclear work.

Although no longer a prerequisite for the start of talks, the nuclear suspension is still a key objective of negotiations with Iran, U.S. officials say. Wood told reporters April 9 that Iran's suspension of its uranium-enrichment program "is a fundamental international community requirement for us to be satisfied that Iran is pursuing a... peaceful nuclear program."

Uranium enrichment can be used to create fuel for nuclear power reactors as well as material for the explosive core in nuclear weapons.

Iran appears to have responded positively to the U.S. interest in diplomatic engagement and the invitation for renewed talks with the P5+1 countries on its nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated during an April 15 speech that Iran has "designed a new package for negotiations which will soon be ready and delivered" to the six countries. He did not provide any details of what the package would include.

Iran Touts Nuclear Progress

As the six countries sought to renew talks to address Iran's nuclear program, Tehran continued to claim advances in Its nuclear efforts. Celebrating Iran's third annual National Nuclear Technology Day, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had mastered the nuclear cycle with the inauguration of a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant near the city of Isfahan. …