President Barack Obama on Thursday described talks among global powers and Iran over Iran’s disputed nuclear program as “constructive.” But he said Tehran must follow up with concrete steps, including giving international inspectors full access to its newly disclosed nuclear site.
In brief remarks to reporters in Washington, Obama said Iran must “demonstrate through concrete steps” that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
He said the talks in Switzerland were a “constructive beginning” but added it must be followed by “constructive action” by Iran.
In particular, Obama said, Tehran must grant International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors “unfettered access” within two weeks to its recently disclosed uranium-enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.
Earlier, a senior EU envoy said Iran has pledged to open the plant to U.N. inspectors, perhaps in the next few weeks.
“Talk is no substitute for action,” the president said. “Our patience is not limited.”
The U.S. and five other world powers agreed to a second round of talks with Iran by the end of October, a U.S. official said.
Undersecretary of State William Burns represented the Obama administration in the talks. The other countries involved were Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
"It was a productive day but the proof of that has not yet come to fruition, so we'll wait and continue to press our point of view and see what Iran decides to do," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier. Asked whether the administration's strategy of offering to engage more directly in dialogue with Iran was now paying off, she said more than gestures and discussions are required in order to meet the administration's goals.
"I will count it as a positive sign when it moves from gestures and engagements to actions and results," she said. "That's a necessary pathway and I think we're on it.
"We've always said we would engage. But we're not talking for the sake of talking," she said, adding, "Today's meeting opened the door, but let's see what happens."
Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Burns used the meeting with chief Iranian delegate Saeed Jalili "to reiterate the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
"He addressed the need for Iran to take concrete and practical steps that are consistent with its international obligations and that will build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program.
"While the focus of the discussion was on Iran's nuclear program, both sides had a frank exchange on other issues, including human rights," said Wood.
Direct engagement with Iran
The encounter appeared to be concrete proof of Obama's commitment to engage Iran directly on nuclear and other issues — a sharp break from the policy under the Bush administration.
More broadly, the meeting suggested that Obama was putting his concept of U.S. foreign policy into action, with its emphasis on negotiating even with the nations that are most hostile to the United States.
Confirming that the seven nations planned to meet again, senior EU envoy Javier Solana said Iran had pledged to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection soon.
Iran's disclosure of the new plant had threatened to poison the atmosphere of the talks, with the West saying Tehran only revealed it because it feared it would found out. Uranium enrichment can make both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
Solana said Iran had pledged to "cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA" and said he expected Tehran to invite agency inspectors looking for signs of covert nuclear weapons activity to visit "in the next couple of weeks."
At the United Nations, the Iranian Foreign Minister suggested his country's talks with the U.S. and five other world powers could be expanded to the "summit" level.
Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was willing to discuss a variety of security, economic and political issues, although he did not specifically refer to nuclear issues, which the six powers consider the most critical topic.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — plus Germany hope to persuade Tehran to freeze the enrichment program.
Second round of talks
Going into Thursday's talks, one of the top U.S. goals was to get the Iranians to commit to a second round of talks within a couple of weeks in order to keep the dialogue in a compact timeframe. The U.S. assumption was that if Iran was willing to engage seriously on the nuclear issue, a positive sign would be its agreement to have a second meeting shortly.
A U.S. government official confirmed to The Associated Press that commercial satellite images taken of the purported nuclear site near Iran's holy city of Qom are generally accurate.
At least three private sector imagery analysts in the United States have focused on the site because it fits the description given by the U.S. government: It is 20 miles from Qom, it is built into a mountainside and it has features consistent with a secret nuclear facility, parts of which the U.S. government says are underground.
Neither the U.S. government nor Iran has officially confirmed the location or the accuracy of the commercial imagery analysis.
Passions over hidden plant
At best, Thursday's talks could start lowering passions over the hidden plant, Iran's three-year defiance of the U.N. Security Council's enrichment ban and Western assertions that Tehran is a supporter of terror — and lead to another meeting later this year.
That, in turn, could be the start of a process that could not only end the threat of an Israeli or U.S. strike against Iran's nuclear facilities as a last resort. It could ultimately lead to an agreement on a limited Iranian uranium enrichment program — but under tight international control meant to banish concerns that it could be turned toward making warhead material.
Such hopes are tenuous. Since the five nations first proposed a set of political and economic concessions to Tehran for a full stop to its enrichment activities three years ago, Iran has expanded the program. It now has more than 8,000 centrifuges set up in its cavernous underground facility at Natanz, with most of them working to churn out fuel-grade enriched uranium.
If the talks fail, the U.S. and its Western allies will renew their push for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The initial set of sanctions in 2006 focused on banning trade with Iran in materials, equipment, goods and technology that could contribute to Iran's uranium enrichment program. Iran says its program is intended to provide fuel for civilian power reactors, but the U.S. suspects it could be used to make nuclear weapons.
U.N. sanctions against Iran were expanded in March 2007 by banning arms exports from Iran and imposing a freeze on the financial assets of 28 individuals and entities. More sanctions in March 2008 restricted the import by Iran of dual-use technologies — those that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.