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A Discussion on Today's Negotiations Between Iran and the West

Aired October 1, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Iran meets face to face with the United States over its nuclear program. President Barack Obama is about to make a statement, and we will have that live. And Iran's chief nuclear negotiator will join us, also, for an exclusive interview.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to our program.

The U.S. today held its first direct talks with Iran on its nuclear efforts. The meeting took place on the sidelines of a crucial meeting in Switzerland between Iran and six world powers.

The talks came amid rising tensions between Tehran and the West. Iran earlier this week had test-fired missiles. It also has built that second uranium enrichment facility near Qom, subject of today's meeting. After this meeting, diplomats said that Iran has agreed to allow inspectors to visit the site. The participants also agreed to hold a second round of talks this month.

And so tonight, is this a dramatic turning point in the relations between Iran and the West?

Joining us to talk about it is Ray Takeyh, former adviser to the Obama administration at the State Department and now with the Council on Foreign Relations.

And also here, Mohammad Marandi, a professor at Tehran University.

Welcome to you both, as we wait first for President Obama and then for Saeed Jalili, the general secretary of Iran's national security council.

Mr. Marandi, if I can go to you first, what is the mood in Iran around these talks? What are people hoping for?

MOHAMMAD MARANDI, TEHRAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think people are mostly hoping that the United States and its allies will change their attitude towards the country. The tone, of course, did change -- change a bit after Obama came to power, but there hasn't been any substantial change in the eyes of the Iranian people with regards to policy towards the country.

And this is an appropriate time for the United States to make that change, if they are really serious about dialogue -- meaningful dialogue with Iran.

AMANPOUR: OK. Stand by for one second.

And, Mr. Takeyh, what does the United States expect to get out of this meeting?

RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: More focus on Iran's nuclear program, particularly the second site that has been -- the clandestine site that was revealed this week, having access to it, and having it safeguarded by international inspectors, having Iran essentially accept some potentially confidence-building measures in its overall nuclear program, getting some of Iran's accumulated low-enriched uranium out of the country for reprocessing, and essentially establishing a mechanism whereby the dialogue between the two countries can be more systematic, as opposed to episodic that it's been in the past.

AMANPOUR: So, therefore, it should be good news after today, because there has, at least according to all sides, been a development on the inspectors, the IAEA inspectors going, they say.

TAKEYH: Right. That's going to be worked out. And to be fair, the inspectors were going to go in there after Iran itself declared this facility to the IAEA. It did so with the purpose of actually inviting them to inspect the facility, so that might have been the easier part. Getting the overall Iranian nuclear program into some degree of regulation and restraint, that might be tougher.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Marandi in Tehran, do you think -- and do you believe the government wants -- broader relations or a different relationship with the United States beyond just these specific talks, these -- this specific issue?

MARANDI: Yes, I think that if the Iranians feel that the Americans are truly serious, then there is, indeed, a possibly for rapprochement. Both countries have serious issues in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in Pakistan, that need to be resolved.

And in some ways, they do have similar interests. The problem is that the Iranians in the past on a number of occasions did step forward for rapprochement and the Americans gave a very negative response. For example, in the past, during the Clinton years, the Iranians allowed Conoco to come and develop oil fields in Iran, and then sanctions were imposed on Iran. And then, when Iran helped in Afghanistan, it was called a part of the axis of evil.

So this time around, I think the Iranians are going to wait to see what the Americans will be doing. They will probably not take the first step forward themselves.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Takeyh, in terms of what Mr. Marandi just raised, the issue of sanctions, what can the United States or should the United States do or the international community in terms of how to go forward? Incentives would there be? And if they impose sanctions, if they -- if they chose to, do you think that would make any bit of difference?

TAKEYH: Well, I think for the next couple of months, everyone is going to wait to see how these negotiations evolved and if you're going to make some sort of a progress, I think, by January. At that time, I think there are going to be serious discussions about a multilateral sanctions regime that may encompass China and Russia, particularly because, at that time, you'll be making an assessment about how these talks work, whether Iran is genuine about coming to terms with the international community or is using these talks to stall and delay. That's when the sanctions issue is going to be -- going to be revisited.

AMANPOUR: But Iran has said clearly that it hasn't worked in the past. It doesn't bow to those kind of threats.

Another thing that the president of Iran has said -- he was quoted before these talks -- is that it was a way for them to gauge whether they would be treated with respect at these talks, whether there would be a different atmosphere in terms of interpersonal atmosphere across the table as a way forward. Do you think that the atmospherics were also important today?

TAKEYH: Atmospherics is always important when you're talking about Iran, because it's a country that sort of relishes international respectability, even though its conduct doesn't always merit it.

But this particular session seems to have been conducted in a civil, respectful tone by both parties. There was a sidebar discussion between American representative and Iranian representative, and I don't know what transpired there, but essentially it seemed to have been a better atmosphere than perhaps at the previous talks, and certainly in reference to the rhetoric coming out of both capsules during the past week.

AMANPOUR: And, Mr. Marandi, given the political dilemma in Iran today and the continued protest, the continued issues there, what is actually going on, in terms of various different factions in -- in Iran today?

MARANDI: Well, one interesting thing is that, with regards to the nuclear program, M.P.s from all the different factions and political parties in parliament, both the different reformists, as well as the different principlists or conservative factions, they all signed a joint statement supporting Iran's position in the negotiations, which is quite significant.

But I think it's also important to note that Iran is quite stable. And unlike what one often hears in -- in the Western media, I don't think that the country is in any serious problem. And I think it's important for the American government to recognize that and to deal with the reality on the ground in Iran.

If you recall, Terror Free Tomorrow, they had a poll before the elections. It showed that Mr. Ahmadinejad was well ahead. And then the more recent University of Maryland also showed that he would -- he won the elections or he was far more popular than Mr. Mousavi.

This doesn't go down well in the United States, I know, but I think that the United States, in order to be able to move towards rapprochement and to be able to deal with Iran, they have to finally come to understand that Iran is not going to go away and the Islamic Republic of Iran is not going to collapse.

If they do come to that recognition and they do come to respect the country, then I think that rapprochement would become much more easy, and I think that the Iranians are quite willing to move in that direction.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me put that to Mr. Takeyh. You were in the State Department. You were on the sort of Iran file. You're no longer there. What is the possibility of rapprochement beyond just this issue?

TAKEYH: Well, it reflects Iran's conduct on a broad range of issues, its entanglements in terrorism, and it's obviously the nuclear file being probably the most important issue, but it's contingent on Iran's behavior...


AMANPOUR: But when President Obama came in, he came in with a different language towards Iran.

TAKEYH: That's right.

AMANPOUR: Does that still -- is that -- does that still hold? Does he still want to have reset relations?

TAKEYH: I think so. I think that, throughout the discussions that have taken place during the past week regarding some of Iran's conduct, the president and others have always insisted that the diplomatic path is still open and Iran has a possibility of walking through the door, if it chooses to, but the door is not going to stay open forever.

So, essentially, it's a performance-based negotiating process. If Iran makes compromises, if it essentially views its relationship with its neighbors differently, its participation in various terrorist activities differently, then I think it can move toward a different relationship with the United States and the larger international community, which is also uneased about various aspects of its behavior.

AMANPOUR: Does the United States agree with -- with several -- with several proposals, such as that Iran does not ever react well under threat, that Iran wants to be treated as the power of the region, which it is, by all accounts, a major power in the region?

TAKEYH: I think there's a recognition that Iran is a major power in a region and can exercise its influence, but it's important for that influence to be exercised in a constructive manner.

AMANPOUR: We're going to come right back after a break, and we hope we're going to have President Obama give his statement, and then we will talk to Saeed Jalili, the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, live from Geneva.


AMANPOUR: We're back again here with Mohammad Marandi, professor at Tehran University, and Ray Takeyh, former adviser to the Obama administration on Iran.

Mr. Marandi, it was a surprise visit by your foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to Washington, D.C. It's the highest such ranking visit to Washington, D.C., in many, many years by an Iranian official. What was that all about?

MARANDI: Well, the Iranian government has an interests section there. It was the former embassy, and it does have a staff. And it is very difficult for the Iranian foreign ministry to access that building because the American government does not allow Iranian diplomats based in the United States to leave the Manhattan island. All Iranian government officials have to stay within, I think, 25 kilometers of the U.N. building.

And so he -- I think he asked to be able to go to D.C. And he -- he went there today.

AMANPOUR: And he said in a press conference that Iran is willing to hold summit-level meetings with world powers. What is the -- the -- the plan of the Iranian foreign ministry and the Iranian government, in terms of -- of these kinds of talks? What do you think he was talking about there?

MARANDI: Well, I think that it just shows that the Iranians are quite willing for dialogue. The problem is that the Iranians still don't trust the U.S. government. The problem is that the Iranians have many grievances. The support that the United States gave to Saddam Hussein during the war, the shah, the sanctions, and also the fact that the United States government is funding terrorist organizations and supporting groups that are opposed to the Iranian government and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Iranians feel that this impedes the improvement of relations.

But in general, I think the Iranians are trying to see if the Americans are really going to move, to -- to shift their policy towards the country. And if they do, I think that the Iranians are quite prepared to improve the situation.

AMANPOUR: Ray, is there any bigger picture here beyond the nuclear negotiations? Or did the whole election, the whole post-election situation sort of put a crimp in -- in those big designs that the Obama administration seemed to have?

TAKEYH: Well, I think it certainly deflated some of the hope that -- that was obvious early in the year with the -- with the nature of the Iranian election, the irregularities, and subsequent suppression of the -- of the dissident peaceful movements.

So, essentially, it became to some extent about the character of the regime, as well, and whether it's possible to negotiate with a regime that doesn't honor the compact with its own people, whether it would be actually honoring agreements it makes with the international community, and that actually raised the stake, in terms of verification and trust, in terms of level of trust you can have in an Iranian government whose social base has narrowed.

AMANPOUR: Just before we show a little bit of what Javier Solana said about today, I want to just ask you about the notion of freeze for freeze. Was that ever on the table today, do you know?

TAKEYH: I think it's on the table today as part of the agreement that's presented to the Iranians.

AMANPOUR: Can you define it precisely? Because as I understood, it was freezing of an expansion of uranium enrichment...

TAKEYH: That's right.

AMANPOUR: ... not a complete suspension and stopping of it.

TAKEYH: The idea was that Iranians would freeze additional nuclear activities and the international community would freeze imposition of additional sanctions, so everybody would freeze where they are. The Iranian program would freeze at its current level; international sanctions would freeze at their current level. And during the period of freeze, you would negotiate a more enduring suspension.

AMANPOUR: But freeze means continuing, but freezing the level you're talking about?

TAKEYH: That's right, freezing additional activities.

AMANPOUR: I understand. We're just going to play now what Javier Solana said after the -- after today's set of talks ended, and this is what he was saying to the press.


JAVIER SOLANA, EUROPEAN UNION ENVOY: Iran has told us that it plans to cooperate fully and immediately with International Atomic Energy Agency on the new enrichment facility near Qom, or near Qom, and will invite the agency -- the experts from the agency to visit the facility soon, we expect within the next couple of weeks.


AMANPOUR: So, again, as we're waiting for President Obama to make that statement that we've been told he's going to make from the White House and as we await our interview with the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, we continue here -- you can see a live picture of the podium at the White House. That is the Diplomatic Room. We are told that it will not be a press conference. This is just a statement by the president. We're told we'll get at least a two-minute warning. So we're going to continue our conversation with Ray.

What is going on right now in terms of inside the administration? What is their focus? How are they handling Iran? Why are you no longer there?

TAKEYH: Well, the focus is primarily on the nuclear issue at this particular point, about how to advance that case, and also at the same time trying to think about various sanctions or other pressure measures that one can devise in order to pressure the Iranian government, should the negotiations fail or Iran's attempt to negotiate is in a superficial, rather than real way.

So, essentially, trying to develop the concept of how to move the negotiations forward, but at the same time trying to consider contingencies, should the negotiations fail, and the whole reassessment is going to be done probably some time around January.

AMANPOUR: And, Mr. Marandi, what is the expectation in Iran? Is this -- do they believe this is actually going to move forward? Or what sort of atmospherics was there amongst the Iranian delegation before they went to this meeting?

MARANDI: Well, the Iranian delegation did go -- before they went, they did go stating that they were looking positively and they were -- they would look positively at whatever the Americans and the -- the other countries would have to say.

But I do think that there is a bit of skepticism in Iran, because, after all, public opinion here is very much supportive of the nuclear program. And there's no doubt that the government will not halt the program itself.

What the Iranians are basically looking for is for the United States to recognize Iran's sovereign right to enrich uranium and at the same time, if the United States actually does that at a realistic level, I think the Iranians will be able to give greater information and access to reassure them if they really have any questions about the nature of the program.

But the problem is that the Iranians are concerned that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and, of course, in the Persian Gulf region. And they do pose a threat to the region and to Iran in the eyes of the Iranians.

AMANPOUR: Just to -- to pick up on one thing you said about the nuclear program, we're going to play right now some of what Mr. Jalili said in the press conference in Geneva after the conclusion of this round of talks.


SAEED JALILI, IRANIAN NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR (through translator): Every individual states and countries should have got the right to have access to the nuclear -- peaceful nuclear energy. Therefore, we believe that the -- the -- the international and world mechanism should be strengthened, today international mechanism, which the best one is IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, and also the NPT regime are two basic and good fundamental foundations, so that to see the realization of these ideals and goals.


AMANPOUR: So, as we continue to await President Obama and, indeed, Saeed Jalili, the Iranian nuclear negotiator, we're going to take a break, and we will be right back.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... in the Pacific. On behalf of the American people, I want to, once again, extend my deepest condolences to the people of American Samoa and Samoa for the terrible loss of life and the devastation that took place after the recent earthquake and tsunami.

I've spoken to the governor and the delegate from American Samoa, and we continue to provide the full support of the federal government for relief efforts there. I have also directed the State Department to provide the assistance necessary to help Samoa recover, as well.

We're also deeply moved by the suffering and the loss of life that's been caused by the recent earthquake in West Sumatra. My administration has been in touch with the government of Indonesia to make it clear that the United States stands ready to help in this time of need. And I've ordered my administration to coordinate with the ongoing relief and recovery efforts there.

Indonesia is an extraordinary country that's known extraordinary hardship from natural disasters. I know firsthand that Indonesian people are strong and resilient and have the spirit to overcome this enormous challenge. And as they do, they need to know that America will be their friend and partner.

Today in Geneva, the United States, along with our fellow permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- namely, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany -- held talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran. These meetings came after several months of intense diplomatic effort.

Upon taking office, I made it clear that the United States was prepared to join our P5-plus-one partners as a full participant in talks with Iran. I extended the offer of meaningful engagement to the Iranian government. I committed the United States to a comprehensive effort to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear power, provided that they live up to their international obligations.

And we have engaged in intensive bilateral and multilateral diplomacy with our P5-plus-one partners and with nations around the world to reinforce this point, including a historic U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed unanimously last week.

The result is clear: The P5-plus-one is united, and we have an international community that has reaffirmed its commitment to nonproliferation and disarmament. That's why the Iranian government heard a clear and unified message from the international community in Geneva: Iran must demonstrate through concrete steps that it will live up to its responsibilities with regard to its nuclear program.

In pursuit of that goal, today's meeting was a constructive beginning, but it must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government.

First, Iran must demonstrate its commitment to transparency. Earlier this month, we presented clear evidence that Iran has been building a covert nuclear facility in Qom. Since Iran has now agreed to cooperate fully and immediately with the International Atomic Energy Agency, it must grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two weeks.

I've been in close touch with the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, who will be traveling to Tehran in the days ahead. He has my full support, and the Iranian government must grant the IAEA full access to the site in Qom.

Second, Iran must take concrete steps to build confidence that its nuclear program will serve peaceful purposes, steps that meet Iran's obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The IAEA proposal that was agreed to in principle today with regard to the Tehran research reactor is a confidence-building step that is consistent with that objective, provided that it transfers Iran's low- enriched uranium to a third country for fuel fabrication.

As I've said before, we support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear power. Taking the step of transferring its low-enriched uranium to a third country would be a step towards building confidence that Iran's program is, in fact, peaceful.

Going forward, we expect to see swift action. We're committed to serious and meaningful engagement, but we're not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely, and we are prepared to move towards increased pressure.

If Iran takes concrete steps and lives up to its obligations, there is a path towards a better relationship with the United States, increased integration for Iran within the international community, and a better future for all Iranians.

So let me reiterate: This is a constructive beginning, but hard work lies ahead. We've entered a phase of intensive international negotiations, and talk is no substitute for action. Pledges of cooperation must be fulfilled.

We've made it clear that we will do our part to engage the Iran government on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, but our patience is not unlimited.

This is not about singling out Iran. This is not about creating double standards. This is about the global nonproliferation regime and Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, just as all nations have it, but with that right comes responsibilities. The burden of meeting these responsibilities lies with the Iranian government, and they are now the ones that need to make that choice.

Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: So President Barack Obama there, summing up what happened in Geneva today. Joining me again to talk about that is Dr. Marandi from Tehran and Ray Takeyh from here.

Three times, President Obama said that the United States supports Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program, and then he also said that the burden of proof to -- to make sure that that's what it was rests with the Iranian government. How do you assess what President Obama said today? It seemed very constructive, and he used that word.

TAKEYH: That's right. I think it was a constructive beginning. What the United States has always stipulated is that Iran has a right to a civilian nuclear program, but it has to have sufficient measures built into that program to make sure that it's not being diverted or misappropriated for military purposes.

AMANPOUR: And as we await Mr. Jalili himself, let me ask you, Mr. Marandi: What did you think of the tone of those remarks from President Obama?

MARANDI: Well, I think that Iranians would say that he wasn't being completely honest, because it was the Iranians, as your good guest mentioned in Washington, that -- who announced the new installation and not the United States. I also think that the tone will not go down very well among the Iranian people, but, of course, Obama has his own internal politics to deal with.

As long as there is the option -- or at least as long as there's the chance that the United States will truly recognize realistically Iran's sovereignty and Iran's right to a nuclear program, then I think that there is a possibility to move forward, despite the tone that he has used.

Iranians in general are somewhat skeptical, because they believe that at the moment there are a number of groups who are trying to prevent better relations between the United States and Iran. Britain and France at the moment are not being very constructive, and there are also some Iran experts that Iranians feel in Washington that have a vested interest in preventing better relations, as well as some groups that are being funded by the U.S. government and who have a very hostile approach towards Iran and who are being funded by U.S. taxpayer money.

But in general, I think that there is a chance that things can move in the right direction.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Takeyh, in terms of -- of what the U.S. wants to see next, President Obama made it quite clear that there has to be this fast, rapid -- he said within two weeks -- access to the Qom site. He also said that Mr. ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, is headed to Iran and that he has his full support.

It's a change of tone from the relationship between Mr. ElBaradei and the Bush administration. Do you think this is going to be helpful?

TAKEYH: The United States government currently has a better relationship with the IAEA, period, because Mr. ElBaradei's position was always that the United States should be more directly involved in negotiations and take some of its responsibilities in that realm seriously. And IAEA is the inspection arm of the United Nations, so it asks as a behalf of five-plus-one and the U.N., so this comes under the responsibility of Mr. ElBaradei to go in and ensure that safeguarded facility is -- is actually under compliance.

AMANPOUR: Beyond freeze for freeze, do you think the administration is prepared to propose any other restraints on Iran's nuclear program that go beyond or different from freeze to freeze?

TAKEYH: Well, I think one of the signs of confidence-building measure would be for Iran to ship out its low-enriched uranium.

AMANPOUR: Which they talked about today.

TAKEYH: Well, they talked -- we're not sure how much of it, whether it's going to be a symbolic act or what is the totality of it, because at this particular point, Iran doesn't have the capacity to transform its low- enriched uranium into fuel rods necessary for operation of its reactor. So there's no reason for that fuel to actually remain in Iran. It can be shipped to international organizations or Russia and other places where they can actually get fuel rods usable for their reactors anyways.

So that's an important indication of confidence-building measures. I'm not sure if Iran is required to do that under its NPT obligations, but if it does so, it's an important indication of its willingness to actually meet -- meet the American demands halfway, at least.

AMANPOUR: And the whole issue here seems to be, what is Iran doing and what is its ambitions? Now, the United States NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, in 2007 said that it believed there was no further work on any kind of weaponization. Its latest estimate confirms that and says that it doesn't believe there's been any weaponization work.

The Europeans seem to be taking a harder line now. There seems to be a flip in the kind of tone that the Europeans are taking towards Iran versus -- versus the United States, completely different than was during the Bush administration.

TAKEYH: Well, it's -- it's interpretation of existing evidence, and I think some of the American intelligence agencies coming out of the Iraq experience tend to be a more conservative and cautious.

But weaponization research is not really the main issue. There are three paths to having a nuclear weapons program: one, development of an indigenous enrichment capability; second, missile technology; third is weaponization engineering, whereby you actually transform the nuclear material into a bomb and put in on the warhead.

So Iran is not developed enough in its nuclear infrastructure to even require weaponization research. It would be premature for it to do so. So mere suspension of that research does not necessarily mean evaporation of motivation for acquiring of the bomb.

AMANPOUR: Very interestingly, with all these talks about consequences, if the -- the -- the negotiations don't proceed along a certain path, people have talked about -- about a military option. And everybody says, well, what's Israel going to do?

Very interestingly, the tone in Israel over the last couple of weeks seems to have shifted with a very revealing interview by the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, saying that Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel, that Iran -- and many of the other officials are saying - - are stepping away from any notion of any kind of strike. They seem to be wanting to give diplomacy a chance.

TAKEYH: Not just diplomacy a chance, but potentially even a sanctions regime a chance. Israelis do not want to use military force against Iran. To use -- to bomb Iran is big move in the Middle East, probably most consequential decision an Israeli government will make since 1967 war.

So it's a huge, huge risk and a huge gamble. And they don't want to do it. They would prefer for diplomacy or potentially economic, diplomatic isolation of Iran to actually bring this issue to some sort of a resolution.

AMANPOUR: And, also, Robert Gates, the U.S. secretary of defense, has basically said the military option is iffy, at best, and there isn't really one.

TAKEYH: Well, yes, the U.S. military doesn't want to do it, either, because they fear the consequences, in terms of backlash of Iranian activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is already unstable.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Marandi, inside Iran, in terms of the politics, because that also does frame how the U.S., the West is looking at Iran right now. What is the -- or is there going to be a resolution of relationships between the opposition, led by Mr. Mousavi, the -- Mr. Karroubi, and the president, or at least his faction? Or is it going to be confrontational - - continue to be confrontational?

MARANDI: Well, I think that Iranian politics are far more complex than that. There are many different political parties and factions among the principlists or conservatives and the reformists. And these are not the only players.

Mr. Mousavi has lost a great deal of his credibility after the elections when he dragged people to the streets and also when he failed to produce evidence of major irregularities. In fact, one of his chief advisers, Dr. Ahundiya (ph), professor at the University of Tehran, stated in a meeting in the presence of Mr. Mousavi's other senior advisers that there were no irregularities, just four or five days after the elections.

And as I said earlier on, the polls carried out by the United States, by the University of Maryland, as well as Terror Free Tomorrow, and polls carried out in Iran did show that Mr. Ahmadinejad was well ahead.

I think that, however, Mr. Ahmadinejad has critics within -- major critics within all sorts of different political parties and factions, but the nuclear program is a different issue altogether. Parliamentarians from all the different factions gave unified support to the government or the -- Mr. Jalili's -- Dr. Jalili's position and his -- and the nuclear program.

I don't think with regards to that you'll find any major political player speaking of putting aside the nuclear program. Everyone supports it, among major politicians.

AMANPOUR: And how does that go down, Mr. Takeyh, here? Because it is sort of a fact of life, for nationalist reasons or whatever, Iranians do say they support the right to their nuclear program. Now, when it comes to nuclear weapons, they don't support that.

TAKEYH: Yes, the international community has granted that Iran has a right to a civilian nuclear program for peaceful purposes, as it claims, and there are a lot of irregularities, there are a lot of concerns, there are a lot of violation of Iran's treaty commitments, so essentially it's asking Iran not to abandon its nuclear program -- which, frankly, it is rather impractical for a country of that size for that particular -- with its energy resources and the fact that Iran doesn't have enough indigenous uranium to operate nuclear power for a long time -- so there are a lot of impracticalities for Iran to have a nuclear program, but, fine, it's a member of the NPT and that right is sanctioned.

But Iran has to account for its violations, for its clandestine activity, for its clandestine installations, for its previous violations. If Iran wants the right to have a nuclear program, then it has to abide by the responsibilities that the treaty also stipulates.

AMANPOUR: We are going to try to go to a break right now. We still are waiting for our interview with the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Mr. Jalili. We are, in fact, going to continue our conversation while we await that.

Mr. Marandi, how serious do you think the whole sort of body politic in Iran is in terms of wanting a different relationship with the United States? I know, from your side, you always say, "If they change," but how serious do you think a major sort of power -- power group in Iran is about changing the relationship? Or is it not?

MARANDI: No, I think that they are serious about it, but I think, at the same time, we have to keep in mind that Iran has lived without relations with the United States for 30 years now and nothing really serious has happened. Iran is much stronger today than it was, let's say, 10, 20 years ago.

But obviously, both countries have serious issues that need to be resolved in the region. The United States is stuck in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is Iran's neighbor. The United States is stuck in Iraq, and Iraq is Iran's neighbor. Iran has to live with these countries forever.

So there is without a doubt a strong interest in resolving the issues, but there is a lack of trust. The Iranians do not trust American intentions.

It is interesting that Mr. Obama said that he gives his full support to Mr. ElBaradei. If he is truly serious about that, that is a good sign, because Mr. ElBaradei has said on numerous occasions that there has never been any evidence to show that Iran's nuclear program has ever been anything but peaceful.

So if he -- if his position is strengthened, I think there is a greater possibility for Mr. ElBaradei to help resolve the problems that exist between Iran and the United States. Iran feels that the way in which its nuclear program, as well as other aspects of Iranian society, has been represented in the West has not been very fair or accurate, but I think that if -- if this issue is resolved fairly, and that Iran's rights are recognized, there is serious -- there is strong support for better relations, as long as the two sides -- there is -- as long as there's mutual respect.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, we are now going to take a break, and we will be back.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining us. We were talking to Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, former with the Obama administration, also Dr. Marandi from Iran on today's groundbreaking negotiations in Geneva. We were hoping to talk with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and we continue to hope that he will join us. And we'll bring that to you when he is available.

But that's it for now. Thank you for watching.