Representatives from the so-called P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany -- are due to meet with Iranian officials on January 21-22 in Istanbul for another round of talks on Tehran's controversial nuclear program. The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing bombs. Iran insists it's for peaceful energy only.
Ahead of the Istanbul talks, Hossein Aryan of RFE/RL's Radio Farda spoke with Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), about some of the issues involved, including an invitation by Iran to some diplomats accredited to the IAEA to visit nuclear facilities in the Islamic republic. Iran invited Russia and China to tour its nuclear facilities, but not Britain, France, Germany, or the United States.
RFE/RL: Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy at the IAEA, said that nuclear talks next week between Iran and major powers in Istanbul could be the last chance for the West. He added that this year Iran will be able to make its own fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor and it may not return to the negotiating table if the talks in Istanbul fail because, according to him, after installing nuclear rods in the reactor, parliament may not allow the government of Iran to negotiate or send its LEU -- low-enriched uranium -- outside the country. Is Iran giving an implicit ultimatum to the West? How do you view that?
Glyn Davies: The proposal to refuel the reactor was back in October of last year -- or the year before, I should say, 2009 -- was a possible confidence-building measure that was meant to address just one small part of Iran's nuclear program, but not to address or to solve the international community's broader concerns. And the deal that Muhammad El-Baradei put together was a very, very good deal, and I think some in Iran understood that. But sadly, in the end, they could not agree to it.
But to your larger question about the P5+1 talks coming in Istanbul, what we plan to do at the P5+1 is discuss Iran's nuclear program broadly, so Istanbul is not going to be a discussion just about the Tehran Research Reactor. It will be about these concerns that the world community has about the direction of Iran's nuclear program and the deep concern that countries have and that the IAEA has that Iran is not cooperating sufficiently with the IAEA and is not being sufficiently transparent.
So to kind of tie the two together, the TRR -- Tehran Research Reactor -- and this broader discussion, regardless of whether or not we move forward with the Tehran Research Reactor proposal eventually, we need to have this much bigger discussion about Iran's nuclear program, and that Tehran Research Reactor proposal is not the only reason that Iran has for meeting with the P5+1.
They understand -- I hope they understand -- that for them, this is an opportunity to take up this offer to engage on their nuclear program, to answer the questions that the world has about their program. But it is an opportunity for them to really come back into the fold and become, once again, a member of the international community in good standing.
RFE/RL: Earlier last week, Iran invited representatives of major powers to visit its nuclear installations. We know that Russia and China have not openly turned it down, while the United States and other countries left the inspection to the IAEA officials. Is Iran, here, trying to divide the international community, or is it hoping to use diplomacy to stave off further economic sanctions?
Davies: This invitation to a very few diplomats to come tour a relatively few nuclear facilities cannot be and is not a substitute for Iran cooperating with the agency, with the IAEA, and fulfilling its international obligations. And so that is why we have said in reaction to this news that Iran is inviting a very few ambassadors is that what they should do is provide the necessary access to the IAEA to monitor and verify its nuclear facilities and to answer the IAEA's outstanding questions.
From our standpoint, this notion of having a prearranged, all-expenses-paid tour for a few ambassadors here in Vienna, this is not the same thing as cooperating fully and completely with the IAEA. It is the agency that has the mandate to ensure that countries abide by their nuclear obligations. So my final thought on this is that this invitation, from our standpoint, will not divert international attention from the core issues around Iran's nuclear program.
RFE/RL: You say you are an ambassador, you are a politician, and you are positive and you are hoping it will bear fruit, these talks. But if nothing happens, if there isn't any step forward, could there be a valid military threat as suggested recently by [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu?
Davies: I'm not in the military business. I'm in the peace business. That's what I do for a living. I'm a diplomat. So I am not in a position to comment on any other options. Nor do I speak for Israel.
I know from the standpoint of the United States, we don't rule out anything, quite frankly, but where we have the emphasis right now and where it has been ever since [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama has been in office, two years now, is on the diplomatic track. It is on providing a diplomatic opening to Iran and through a combination of very measured pressure through the UN Security Council sanctions but, at the same time, an open hand extended to Iran, as has been the case for two years now, to provide Iran with this opportunity to resolve these issues diplomatically and peacefully.
So that is where I want to put the emphasis, is on the opportunity presented by Istanbul, and I hope it is an opening that Iran takes up. And I hope it leads to even more intensive discussions about the Iranian nuclear program, and I hope it resolves the questions that so many of us have had for the better part of a decade about where Iran is headed in its nuclear program.