World powers meet on Iran nuclear standoff

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is the World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. Six of the world's most powerful nations met today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The nations agreed to reach out to Iran, saying they're seeking an early negotiated solution to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran has been sending out mixed signals about its willingness to talk about its nuclear program. The White House has also been relying on a two-track approach. It's leaving the door open to talks while it's keeping the pressure on Iran. Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch is at the UN now. He says the chances for a real diplomatic breakthrough with Tehran remain slim.

COLUM LYNCH: Even though there seems to be this opening, in terms of approaches, this stick approach, is pretty much been employed and there doesn't seem to be much prospect with that being ratcheted up any time soon. So, if it turns into kind of a diplomatic opening and starts talking, everybody starts talking great, but I wouldn't bet my week's pay on it.

MULLINS: No, although when you talk about the stick approach, President Obama said this week we don't think that a war between Israel and Iran or military options would be the ideal way to solve this problem. Is the rhetoric though getting any less heated if the stick approach has been exhausted, yet the possibility of some kind of military action is not off the table? We should also mention that President Ahmadinejad said this week that if there was some kind of American-backed Israel attack, Iran would respond with a war that would know no boundaries.

LYNCH: He's said similar things in the past. Very tough language. What's sort of interesting is over the last couple weeks in the run up to this meeting, the tone from discussions with a lot of the key security council members, the major powers, the Europeans and the Americans, has been that there is a certain feeling and confident that the Israelis are willing to let these sanctions play out more. Not the same sense of urgency that they heard before the security council voted to impose an earlier set of sanctions earlier this year. I suspect that that won't last forever.

MULLINS: Colum, you see what happens in the meetings, you see what happens before the microphones and you also see and hear what happens in the hallways. What kind of subtext is there to the rhetoric that we're hearing?

LYNCH: President Ahmadinejad, he comes here every year, he makes a lot of news, he does interviews with all the press, but frankly this session, it's not as eventful as many of the previous discussions we have. And despite the tough rhetoric, my sense is that things are much calmer this year than they were last year and I'm not terribly confident that that will lead to a resumption of real negotiations, but I just don't think that the US and the Europeans have much in their tool box that they can do to sort of ratchet up pressure. So, I think everybody is sort of waiting to give these sanctions time to play out.

MULLINS: Final question is about President Obama who has begun his three day trip to the United Nations. Today it's kind of a tricky time for the White House with mid-term elections just ahead. What is his posture as he talks to people at the United Nations? What are you noticing? Perhaps something different than you've noticed before.

LYNCH: Obama comes here with a fairly good story to tell. He has been trying to take the lead in moving towards an agreement in various areas on disarmament of nuclear weapons. He's going to get a lot of praise for that. He has a peace process underway in the Middle East. That's something that is going to make everybody very, very happy. He has been supporting the United Nations. He's been doing a lot to help build up the UN, to support the UN, to show the UN that he cares about what the other membership cares about. So I think that in general, I mean even though he's taking a hit on the domestic front in terms of popularity levels in the United States, I think that he's going to come here very much as an extremely popular American president.

MULLINS: Alright. Thank you very much, Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch. You can check out his blog called Turtle Bay. There's a link at our website, TheWorld.org. Thank you again, Colum.

LYNCH: Great. Thanks for having me Lisa.