There's still no breakthrough in US talks with Iran

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Highly anticipated talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program wrapped up today in Geneva and they seemed to end on a positive note. The White House called the multilateral talks useful, but were there any breakthroughs? Not really. Still, they did agree to meet again in November. Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a former nuclear negotiator for the Iranian government. He's currently a research scholar at Princeton and I asked him why anyone should expect further discussion might produce a genuine agreement.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian: Iran really means it and they are ready to make a final deal covering the major concerns of the world powers, if the world powers are prepared, and also to meet the major demands of the Iranians.

Werman: If for you the big headline here is that Iran is sincere and for real this time round, why do you think the country won't just open the door to monitors and allow inspection of any suspicious activities related to nukes? I mean doesn't it make Iran seem like it's got something to hide?

Mousavian: No, actually in 2003-2005 we took initiative to go for maximum level of transparency that at that time I was a member of Iranian nuclear negotiation team. The international community, they were asking us to implement additional protocol. We implemented. We gave access to international community to the IAEA, even to military sides. We did everything. We showed them maximum level of transparency.

Werman: Let me ask you this though because a lot of skeptics in the US right now are saying the current round of negotiations in Geneva basically, you know, Iran is simply playing for time they say in trying to draw these talks out while they get closer to producing a nuclear weapon.

Mousavian: This is not really the fact. The fact is today the US would have to respect the legitimate rights of Iran for peaceful nuclear technology, like other members, but main question remains to me is whether President Obama would be able to deliver sanction relief or not. Without the role of sanctions there would be no deal. Now the package is on the table.

Werman: That was Seyed Hossein Mousavian, former nuclear negotiator for the Iranian government. He's currently a scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton. To get a different look now at the prospects for a thaw in US-Iranian negotiations, we turn to David Rhode. He's a columnist for Reuters. So we just heard from Professor Mousavian at Princeton that while no concrete statements of progress were made at the close of this first session on Iran's nukes in Geneva, it's still for real he says; Iran is sincere. I mean is it hard for you, David, to look at the last few days in Geneva and not see the same old dance?

David Rhode: I was in Washington yesterday and spoke to some people at the State Department. They're hopeful there could be a breakthrough here, but they're very cautious, and there is a long history here of either delaying tactics or outright deception by the Iranians. So I don't want to discount you know, negotiations, but you know, I talked to the State Dept., who is very close to Secretary Kerry, and they said you know, he is wary as well; he wants to try this, but he knows it could be a delaying tactic.

Werman: Well it was interesting, Secretary Kerry was not at these talks in Geneva. Did your contact at the State Dept. have anything to say about that?

Rhode: I pushed them. It's a great question, and I said why isn't he there, is this a sign that, you know, Kerry doesn't want to get associated too closely with this in case it doesn't work? They said no, Wendy Sherman, the official that's there has lead nuclear talks in the past, knows all these details. I think Kerry is keeping his distance. I think that they want to see how serious this Iranian proposal is. Today's, you know, announcement of talks in three weeks is a positive sign, but you know, with they made very clear is that there are forms of very intrusive inspections that can work, that can more or less stop the Iranians from potentially building a bomb. The question is will the Iranians agree to it?

Werman: I'm just curious too, David, do you think the current shutdown and debt ceiling crisis affects any of this negotiation with Iran business or is it just a parallel universe right now?

Rhode: Oh, I think it definitely affects it. I mean more broadly across the State Dept. there are senior nominees that Kerry has been trying to get into office that, you know, are waiting to just have hearings in the senate, and they can't because it's been so consumed, first with sort of the Syria crisis and now the debt limit. So I know it's more broadly affecting the State Dept., you know, beyond financially, just not being able to have senior people confirmed. And it is a distraction. I think it, you know, Secretary Kerry had to fill in for the president across Asia and I think it is seen as a weakness that the United States' house is completely out of order. The president has to stay in Washington instead of you know, going out on these trips that were planned for months in advance, so I do think it definitely impacts things.

Werman: David Rhode, a columnist for Reuters, his latest book is Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East. David, always good to talk, thank you.

Rhode: Thank you.