By Sam Youngman and Bridget Johnson - 10/01/09 07:52 PM EDT
President Barack Obama said Thursday that the Iranian government must allow
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) full and unfettered
access to a recently unveiled underground uranium enrichment plant in two
Obama, speaking in the White House Diplomatic Room, said that meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials and other diplomatic partners in Geneva are a "constructive beginning" as the countries have entered into "intensive" negotiations.
"In pursuit of that goal, today's meeting was a constructive beginning, but it must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government," Obama said.
Iran met with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany in Switzerland on Thursday, emerging with an agreement to meet for further discussions this month. Undersecretary of State William Burns sat down for a rare bilateral meeting with Saeed Jalili, chief of Iran's National Security Council.
Iran is being asked to offer unfettered access to the nuclear processing site at Qom, and to take steps to prove that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, as the Islamic Republic has long claimed. A second round of talks is planned for the end of this month, and if the steps are not met then, the threat of sanctions will take a greater role in negotiations.
"I will count it as a positive sign when it moves from gestures and engagements to actions and results," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said after talks concluded on Thursday. "That's a necessary pathway and I think we're on it. We've always said we would engage. But we're not talking for the sake of talking."
The president warned Iran that "talk is no substitute for action" and that "our patience is not unlimited."
"We're not interested in talking for the sake of talking," Obama said.
The U.S., joined by England and France, disclosed evidence of the underground facility to the IAEA last week after Iranian officials, aware that the facility had been discovered, also disclosed the existence of the site.
Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, warned Iranian officials that refusal to allow the IAEA to inspect the facility would likely result in increased sanctions.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama again pressed evidence of the facility and said the country must change course on its nuclear ambitions or “face consequences.”
“Iran’s leaders must now choose — they can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations, or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people,” Obama said.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the negotiations still have a long way to go, but the president and America's negotiating partners will not allow the Iranians to run out the clock while developing nuclear-weapon capabilities.
"If at any point this appears to simply be the Iranians trying to talk some issue to death, then I think, working in concert with and common purpose with our P-5-plus-1 partners, we'll take additional steps to ensure that Iran knows we mean business," Gibbs said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) acknowledged in an editorial in the Financial Times on Thursday that diplomatic engagement may fail, but still remains the best course in dealing with the Islamic Republic.
"We must be willing to take yes for an answer," Kerry wrote. "An important lesson of Iraq is that intrusive inspections can work. Our ability to detect and monitor the Qom enrichment facility for years before publicly revealing it is encouraging. One objective should be a more expansive inspections and monitoring regime to prevent Iran from diverting nuclear material to a 'break-out' military program."
Kerry encouraged economic measures that could be enacted, aside from "the most potent pressure" of Security Council sanctions.
While not laying out a timeline for the next round of talks, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Thursday that "Iran informed the P-5-plus-1 that it plans to cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA on the new enrichment facility near Qom and will invite IAEA experts to come in the next few weeks."
Kelly confirmed that it was "agreed in principle in consultations with the IAEA ... that low-enriched uranium produced in Iran will be transported to third countries for further enrichment and fabrication into fuel assemblies." Numerous media reports indicated that Russia was offering to enrich Iran's uranium stocks for what the Islamic Republic terms medical purposes.