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US won't join Iran nuclear talks -

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US won't join Iran nuclear talks

Reporter: Michael Carey

TONY JONES: There's a growing international consensus that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons
program, but there's little agreement on how to stop them reaching the end goal. Tomorrow, critical
talks between Iran and three European powers will resume, and the White House says it hopes the
negotiations are successful. But the US is refusing to join the talks, and it won't rule out
military intervention. Iran publicly rejects the US rhetoric as bluster and says Washington is well
aware of the risks of retaliation. So how far is the Bush administration willing to go if it
believes Iran is about to go nuclear? Michael Carey reports.

MICHAEL CAREY: Relations between Washington and Tehran have been poisonous for decades, but Iran's
plan to develop nuclear weapons has ratcheted up the tension even further. In his State of the
Union address three years ago, President Bush famously dubbed Iran a member of an axis of evil. In
this year's speech, the message was the same.

GEORGE W. BUSH (US PRESIDENT): Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror;
pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.

MICHAEL CAREY: Iran's leaders reject that description as outrageous.

HASSAN ROHANI (IRAN'S CHIEF NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR): I don't think America will take such a risk,
because America knows we'll answer such an attack.

MICHAEL CAREY: But the US is keeping its options open. Journalist Seymour Hersh made headlines last
month with claims that American commandos have been inside Iran for months, collecting evidence on
its nuclear program, and he maintains that the White House is actively considering a military
response.

SEYMOUR HERSH (JOURNALIST): It is alarming to a lot of people. They think - and I think the people
that I talk to inside certainly believe that some of the more extreme civilian neocons, we call
them, really do want this to happen. This has been on their table for years.

MICHAEL CAREY: However, the Bush administration is talking down the prospect of air strikes in
Iran, although it won't rule out the use of force.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The question is simply not on the agenda at this point.

MICHAEL CAREY: Europe believes the only way of keeping Iran non-nuclear is through striking a deal
with Tehran. In December, Iran agreed to a temporary halt to its uranium enrichment program, and
talks are now on attempting to extend that freeze. The US views those talks skeptically and is
resisting pressure from Europe to join in. And if the talks don't work, then what?

PATRICK CLAWSON (DEPUTY DIRECTOR, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE OF NEAR EAST POLICY): If the Iranians were
to do something not very bright, like announce that they're going to withdraw from the
non-proliferation treaty, then the issue of what could be done to stop Iran's nuclear program
through military force would be on the agenda.

MICHAEL CAREY: Patrick Clawson says he's optimistic about a diplomatic solution, and he says
reported commando operations in Iran do not mean that a US military strike is imminent.

PATRICK CLAWSON: Covert surveillance of Iran better be going on. If the US is spending billions of
dollars for intelligence agencies and those outfits are not trying to collect covert information
about Iran's nuclear program, then I'd love to know what they're doing.

MICHAEL CAREY: Not everyone is upbeat about the White House's approach. Critics say the Bush
administration's refusal to join European talks means the US has no Iran policy.

SUSAN RICE (SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE): We have the administration now on the one hand
saying, "Well, this is our policy; we hope the Europeans succeed." On the other hand, you have
officials saying, "No, the Europeans will never succeed and their efforts are frivolous." We don't
have a coordinated policy, and what we need to do is not only to give rhetorical support to the
Iranian initiative but to join them and put our own carrots and sticks on the table.

MICHAEL CAREY: The available carrots include economic and diplomatic moves towards normalising
relations - a radical turnaround after years of US sanctions. The White House is still unwilling to
open that door and go beyond wishing the talks success.

DICK CHENEY (US VICE PRESIDENT): I think there's a good-faith effort under way by our European
allies to try to resolve this matter diplomatically. We support that effort.

MICHAEL CAREY: If the US doesn't join the talks, however, Europe fears they will fail, and that
could mean a choice between an attempted military solution or, more likely, accepting Iran has the
bomb.