The United States is joining, for the first time, nuclear negotiations between Iran and the European Union. The meeting, which also includes representatives from Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China, is taking place behind closed doors in Geneva's historic city hall. The high-powered delegation aims to persuade Iran to end its nuclear program. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the site of the talks in Geneva.
The Bush administration has sent the U.S. State Department's third ranking official, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to these talks. But it is downplaying his participation by stressing the envoy will only listen and not talk.
But political pundits see this as a significant policy shift. Until now, Washington had refused to meet face-to-face with Iran on the nuclear issue, unless it first stopped its uranium enrichment program.
Daniel Warner is Director of the Center for International Governance at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. He tells VOA this may indeed indicate a tremendous shift in U.S. policy.
He says there are different forces within the government that have different opinions about what should be done about Iran. He says Burns' presence at the meeting indicates a victory for one of those groups.
"It seems to me that in the administration, there are those who want to negotiate with Iran and there are those who want to be more radical in their attitude. Perhaps, we are also seeing what is used in diplomacy. It is called the good guy and bad guy philosophy. We threaten that we are going to do something and at the same time we offer a fig leaf for negotiations. And, I think this is what we are seeing now," he said.
The United States accuses Iran of developing a nuclear weapons program. Iran denies this. It claims its program is for peaceful purposes and as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, it has the right to pursue this option.
Tensions have increased since Iran test-fired missiles in the Persian Gulf last week, pushing oil prices to an all time high. This is putting greater pressure on all sides to try to reach an agreement to the nuclear standoff.
Iran says it is looking for constructive talks on its country's nuclear program, but it warns it will not bow to any threats during the negotiations.
Daniel Warner says the tit-for-tat exchange between Washington and Tehran should not be taken too seriously.
"Much of this is posturing for the general public, which is something that happens for all negotiations. It does seem to me that there is compromise, certainly if the International Atomic Energy Agency is involved with some kind of control, some kind of looking exactly what the nuclear program is being used for. So, it does seem to me that there are ways of getting out of some kind of a military confrontation," he said.
Warner was alluding to discussions Undersecretary of State Burns had with the head of the IAEA before coming to Geneva. Warner believes Burns wanted to get confirmation that U.N. inspectors would agree to go into Iran to check out its nuclear program.
Last month, the Western powers offered Iran a package of economic and diplomatic incentives in return for freezing its uranium enrichment program. Negotiators at the meeting Saturday will seek a response to this proposal.