RFE/RL: After the meeting of the 5+1 group of political negotiators in London on Iran’s nuclear program yesterday, the British foreign office spokesperson said no new decision was made at the meeting, that the members only reiterated their existing position, as well as their strong support for negotiation between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani. You met with them last night. Would you kindly tell us what your view on that is?
Nicholas Burns: Well, I think all the countries are unified in saying that Iran is not meeting its international commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency or to the United Nations Security Council. Iran is not allowing the inspection of its nuclear facilities to the extent it should. And Iran is not responding to the Security Council resolutions that have been passed. This is a problem for Iran, because Iran is rather isolated in the world. Even countries like Brazil and Egypt and India and Indonesia and South Africa are all voting for sanctions against Iran, and Iran doesn’t have any supporters because it refuses to negotiate. And so there was a strong feeling at the meeting that Iran must respond now and agree to negotiate.
"We would like to help build a civil nuclear power facility in Iran. But we’re not going to help Iran with scientific research that would lead to nuclear weapons development."
RFE/RL: While the meeting was taking place, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran was not going to give in “one iota” from where it stands, whereas the 5+1 said that they want Iran to comply with the IAEA and Security Council’s requirements. How do you think this standoff can be resolved?
Burns: Well, I think that it’s important that the Iranian people know that our argument is not with them. We would like to provide civil nuclear power and electricity to the Iranian people. We would like to help build a civil nuclear power facility in Iran. But we’re not going to help Iran with scientific research that would lead to nuclear weapons development. That’s the distinction that I think it’s important for the Iranian people to know about. And we hope that the Iranian government will understand that it’s really in its best interest to sit down and have a peaceful negotiation with us.
RFE/RL: By saying that, are you asking the Iranian people to put pressure on their government, and tell them, yes, we want nuclear energy but we don’t want nuclear weapons?
Burns: I think this is something that Iranians have to decide, obviously in their own country. But I think that is the right thing for Iranians to be saying to their government. Obviously, no one wants to deny Iran electricity that would help farmers, that would help business people, and students. No one wants to deprive Iran of that. But everyone does believe that Iran has no right to nuclear weapons, and the government is irresponsible, and there’s no international trust in the government of Iran that would warrant a nuclear-weapons program.
RFE/RL: If no progress is made, do you see the military option as a choice?
Burns: Well, we have never taken that off the table, but frankly our clear preference is for a diplomatic solution. We wish to negotiate with Iran, we are not seeking a confrontation with Iran, and we ought to give diplomacy a chance to succeed, and we hope it can succeed.
RFE/RL: On the topic of [the conference at] Sharm el-Sheikh: In your speech yesterday, you said that if U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice does meet with [Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr] Mottaki, it will only concentrate on issues of Iraq. But she has been quoted as saying that she’s ready to talk to Mr. Mottaki on all issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, is this right?
Burns: Well we’ll have to see what kind of posture the Iranian government decides to take in Sharm el-Sheikh. We believe that it’s positive that Iran be represented at the conference. We believe that Iran should take more steps to prevent weapons, or fighters, from crossing the border from Iran into Iraq. And we think it’s very, very important that Iran be a more constructive partner to the Iraqi government, to preserve peace and stability, and that will be the point that Secretary Rice makes when she sits down around the table with the Iranian foreign minister.
RFE/RL: And finally, how likely is it that the Americans will sit at the negotiating table with Iran, with all areas of concern being negotiated?
Burns: Well certainly, we want to discuss with Iran a more peaceful Iraq. We also want to sit down and discuss the future of the nuclear issue, and Iran should know that we are not going to support, ever, in any way, shape, or form, its achievement of a nuclear weapons capability. But we will support civil nuclear power for the Iranian people.
A control panel at the Bushehr nuclear power plant (Fars)
CASCADES AND CENTRIFUGES: Experts and pundits alike continue to debate the goals and status of Iran's nuclear program. It remains unclear whether the program is, as Tehran insists, a purely peaceful enegy project or, as the United States claims, part of an effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
On June 7, 2006, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with nuclear expert Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden to help sort through some of the technical issues involved. "[Natanz] will be quite a large plant," Kile said. "There will be about 50,000 centrifuges and how much enriched uranium that can produce [is] hard to say because the efficiency of the centrifuges is not really known yet. But it would clearly be enough to be able to produce enough [highly-enriched uranium] for a nuclear weapon in fairly short order, if that's the route that they chose to go...." (more)