U.S.: We Are Willing to Engage Iran but We Are Realistic

State Department spokesman says main U.S. concerns are Iran's nuclear program, their suspected sponsoring of terror, and their interference with Mideast peace process.

The United States State Department spokesman said following talks with Iran and world powers in Istanbul that they were willing to engage Iran but they remain realistic.

Philip Crowley said the U.S. had three main concerns regarding Iran: their nuclear program, their suspected state sponsor of terrorism, and their interference in the Middle East peace process.

ahmadinejad - Reuters - December 23 2010
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Reuters

"Iran remains, arguably, the leading international state sponsor of terrorism. Iran is undermining the international community's efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. So we're in Istanbul engaged with Iran to try to see if we can't resolve the nuclear file. But we're not putting all of our eggs in one basket," Crowley said.

The countries were meeting in Istanbul in an attempt to find common ground at talks jeopardized by Tehran's refusal to discuss demands that it curb nuclear activities that could manufacture the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Despite the apparent lack of progress reached in the talks, Crowley reiterated the U.S.'s willingness to meet with Iran on the issue, saying "in the meantime we're willing to engage, and our presence in Istanbul is an indication of that."

Iran and the other countries sat down with no sign that they were ready to budge from widely differing positions revealed after a first round of talks in Geneva last month.

Crowley compared the meetings to the American Football League: "For the NFL, for example, there are 16 games in a season. After the second game, you don't decide whether a team is in the Super Bowl or not. We would envision that in order to resolve all of these questions regarding Iran's nuclear program, it is going to take a lengthy process, not one or two meetings, to answer all of those questions."

While the six powers would like to kick start talks focused at freezing Iran's uranium enrichment program, Tehran has repeatedly said that activity is not up for discussion. Instead, Iranian officials are pushing an agenda that covers just about everything except its nuclear program: global disarmament, Israel's suspected nuclear arsenal, and Tehran's concerns about U.S. military bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Crowley said the meet did have "a sense of urgency," as the centrifuges "are still spinning" and Iran "continues to advance its knowledge of nuclear technology."

"Left unchecked, we do have concerns that Iran may cross a threshold to where it has the potential for a weapons program," Crowley said.

Before the meeting even began on Friday, Iran reiterated that they would refuse to discuss any suspension of their uranium enrichment program.

"We will not allow any talks linked to freezing or suspending of Iran's enrichment activities to be discussed at the meeting in Istanbul," Massoud Zohrevand, a senior official in the Iranian delegation said.

"So far this issue has not been discussed, has not been raised or mentioned by the other party," Zohrevand said, adding, "Iran's nuclear rights cannot be discussed."