Listen to Susan Yackee's interview with Akbar Ahmed, a Middle East expert, author and professor at American University in Washington:
A senior U.S. State Department official said Thursday that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's visit to Tehran this weekend probably is the last chance for Iran to respond to international concerns about its nuclear program before more U.N. sanctions are imposed. The State Department official said he believes Iran will not change course unless there is a fourth round of sanctions.
State Department officials say they do not oppose engagement with Iran by current Security Council member countries Turkey and Brazil.
But they say the United States is losing patience with what they see as fruitless overtures to Tehran, and they say they believe that sanctions should be imposed without delay if the long-anticipated visit to Tehran by President Lula fails to produce results.
A senior official who spoke to reporters here called the Lula visit "perhaps the last big shot at engagement" with Tehran. He said Iranian authorities have used meetings with countries like Brazil and Turkey to appear to offer what he termed "a veneer of cooperation" while really offering nothing in terms of a meaningful response on the nuclear issue.
U.S. officials say Iran's uranium enrichment program is weapons-related, despite Tehran's expression of peaceful intent. They say their suspicions are reinforced by Iran's refusal to respond to confidence building proposals by world powers.
They say they do not think Iran will engage seriously in the absence of what would be a fourth round of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States welcomes the visit by President Lula, but that it is doubtful it will yield anything useful.
"We ourselves are skeptical that Iran is going to change course," he said. "And certainly coming out of President Lula's trip to Tehran this weekend, we look forward to hearing the results of that discussion and any others that might occur. And at that point, I think, we'll understand what Iran is either willing or unwilling to do. And at that point, we believe there should be consequences for a failure to respond."
Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the nuclear issue by telephone on Thursday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo, whose government has also been pursuing nuclear mediation with Iran.
The senior official said the United States believes Iran might invite leaders from Turkey and perhaps other countries to join in meetings in Tehran with President Lula in what would be seen here as another move by Iran to ease pressure for sanctions.
Last week in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki invited diplomats from all 15 U.N. Security Council member countries, including the United States, to an unusual dinner meeting.
Spokesman Crowley said Mottaki offered nothing new at the dinner. He said the Iranian official told the diplomats that even if Tehran accepted a big power offer of last November to export some of its enriched uranium to be reprocessed as fuel for a research reactor, the broader Iranian enrichment drive would continue.
Negotiations among the five permanent Security Council member states on a new sanctions resolution have been underway in New York for several weeks.
Crowley said the United States has a sense of urgency on the sanctions and expects that a draft resolution will be ready for presentation "in the next few weeks."