U.S. to meet with Iran over its nuclear program


Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, right, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah Khaled al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a US- Gulf Cooperation Council forum meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, (Brendan Smialowski/AP)

The United States and its international partners will meet with Iranian negotiators April 13-14 for a new round of talks over Iran’s nuclear program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday.

“It will soon be clear whether Iran’s leaders are prepared to have a serious, credible discussion . . . to start building the trust we need to move forward,” Clinton said after a security conference held in Saudi Arabia with Persian Gulf Arab states.

“So far,” she said, “they have given little reason for confidence. What is certain is that Iran’s window to do so will not remain open forever.”

The announcement came the day after President Obama certified that global oil supplies are sufficient to move ahead with the tougher economic sanctions against Iran scheduled to take effect this summer.

Clinton spoke in the country that is expected to make up much of the shortfall when new sanctions take effect against Iran’s Central Bank, which processes payments for nearly all of Iran’s oil exports. A European oil embargo on Iran is scheduled to begin July 1.

She said the talks, over what the West charges is a nuclear weapons program but Iran insists is designed to provide peaceful nuclear power, would be held in Istanbul. But while the negotiating group known as the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France, plus Germany — has proposed the venue, Iran has not formally agreed to it.

Iran had indicated days ago that there was an agreement on the April 13 date, but there was no confirmation from the other side.

Clinton held a news conference with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh after the inaugural meeting of a new strategic organization between the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

She said the Obama administration plans to help the region develop an integrated, American-supplied missile defense system, outlined for the group in a briefing by Vice Adm. Michael I. Fox, commander of the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet.

“We are committed to defending the Gulf nations, and we want it to be as effective as possible,” Clinton said. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have purchased U.S. missile defense systems. Clinton spoke of a radar system that would coordinate the defenses of the GCC as a group.

“It’s the cooperation, the interoperability that we now need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on,” she said.

The Gulf states, like Israel, are within Iranian missile range and their oil exports pass within miles of Iranian territory through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

Clinton and her GCC counterparts plan to attend a meeting in Istanbul on Sunday of the Friends of Syria group, about 70 countries and international groups that have called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The group first gathered last month in Tunis. While members agreed there to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Assad and pledged international humanitarian assistance, they split on whether to provide weapons to Syrian opposition fighters, as Saudi Arabia and others have advocated.

A communique at the end of the U.S.-GCC gathering did not directly address the weapons issue, but it called on U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to “determine a timeline for the next steps if the killing continues.” Assad has agreed on, but not implemented, a plan proposed by Annan to stop regime attacks on civilians that the United Nations estimates has killed 10,000 people since the Syrian uprising began early last year.

“If we believe the propaganda of Syria,” Saud said, “only the terrorists are creating trouble.” The Syrian government, he said, has announced an end to the uprising, “yet the cannons continue to fire and the tanks continue to move. We are living in a world where truth and falsehood have become mixed.”

Opposition activists in Syria said Saturday that government attacks continue. They reported 29 deaths in cities across the country.

“Yes, indeed, we support the arming of the nationalists” in Syria, Saud said. But while “you want disagreement between us, there is none,” he told reporters as Clinton nodded in agreement beside him.

Staff writer Alice Fordham contributed from Beirut.

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.
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