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U.S. And Iran Discuss Nuclear Plan in Geneva

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Iran has been given two more weeks to agree to freeze its uranium enrichment program or face the prospect of new and tougher United Nations sanctions. This is the result of a multilateral meeting in Geneva where for the first time top-level U.S. and Iranian officials were both present. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Geneva.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The talks between the six-nation negotiating team and the Iranian delegation lasted five hours. The U.S., European, Russian, and Chinese officials were hoping to hear that Tehran had agreed to their incentives package under which Iran would suspend its nuclear program in exchange for a halt on further UN sanctions. But at the final press conference, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana acknowledged the talks were inconclusive.

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Dr. JAVIER SOLANA (High Representative, Common Foreign and Security Policy, European Union): It was constructive, but we didn't get still the answer we are looking for.

POGGIOLI: Solana made it clear that the Iranians were repeatedly told what's at stake, another round of UN sanctions and further international isolation if the offer is rejected. But even when pressed by reporters, the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was evasive saying diplomacy moves ahead in millimeters.

Dr. SAEED JALILI (Secretary, Supreme National Security Council, Iran): (Through Translator) And again, to some extent, it is similar to Iranian carpets, because it is a very precise work, it's in certain cases a very beautiful endeavor, and hopefully the end result, the final product, would be beautiful to behold.

POGGIOLI: The negotiators run out of patience and gave Iran another two weeks to come up with a yes or no answer. Javier Solana.

Dr. SOLANA: Now, I hope very much that after a debate, they change their views, Dr. Jalili will go back to Tehran and will inform the authorities to see we can get a positive answer, which will be very important, in, let's say, a couple of weeks.

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POGGIOLI: Solana said the answer can be given over the phone, not necessarily at another top-level meeting. Hopes the meeting would produce more concrete results had been raised by the Bush administration's decision to send a senior diplomat to Geneva. It was the first high-level U.S.-Iran contact in 30 years since relations were severed over the U.S. hostage crisis in Tehran.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns did not meet separately with the Iranians. But the State Department said he delivered a clear and simple message, the U.S. is serious in its support for the incentives package offered to Tehran. And a State Department spokesman said Iran must now choose between cooperation and confrontation. Solana stressed the importance of the U.S. envoy's presence at the Geneva talks.

Dr. SOLANA: Today, physically, all the countries have been represented. So, it's very, very important, and everybody has to be aware of that.

POGGIOLI: For a long time, the sextet was disunited over how to deal with Tehran. But in Geneva, the six-power group presented a common front, making it much harder for Iran to play one country against the other. Sylvia Poggioli NPR News, Geneva. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.