By Stephen Collinson (AFP) – Oct 1, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Thursday demanded swift and "constructive" action from Iran following crucial nuclear talks, and warned that his patience for dialogue with the arch-US foe was limited.
Obama said the meeting between world powers and Tehran in Geneva, which included the highest-level direct talks between the United States and Iran in three decades, was a "constructive" start to defusing a nuclear standoff.
But he warned that Washington was ready to quickly clamp "increased pressure" on Tehran, an apparent code word for sanctions, if it sought to promote endless talks on its nuclear program simply as a delaying tactic.
"We expect to see swift action," Obama said at the White House in his first reaction to the high-stakes talks in a Swiss villa between Iran and China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany.
"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."
The seven-and-a-half hour meeting ended with Iran agreeing to offer access to its newly revealed uranium enrichment site near the holy city of Qom. Obama said that access must be full, swift and unfettered.
"Today's meeting was a constructive beginning but it must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government," said Obama, who came to power offering to talk to some of America's most implacable foes.
An International Atomic Energy Agency proposal for a third country to convert Iran's low-grade enriched uranium to high-grade material for use in a medical research reactor would also be a step towards demonstrating Iran's peaceful aims, Obama said.
"We have made it clear that we will do our part to engage the Iranian government on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect, but our patience is not unlimited," Obama said.
"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."
After leaders of Britain, the United States and France accused Iran of building the secret plant, at the G20 summit last week, US officials warned they were on the lookout for any other undiscovered sites.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Obama's words.
"It was a productive day, but the proof of that has not yet come to fruition," Clinton said.
US officials had privately made clear before the talks that though they would not threaten Iran with sanctions in Geneva, they were working to build a set of tough new punishments should it fail to satisfy US concerns.
"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 ... partners, we'll take additional steps to ensure that Iran knows we mean business," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday.
US negotiator William Burns and Iran's top atomic point-man Saeed Jalili held a landmark private meeting on the sidelines of the talks -- the biggest test yet of Obama's pro-engagement strategy.
Officials said the discussions centered on the nuclear issue and human rights, and called the talks "frank" and "very straightforward."
"This all sounds like diplomatic parlance but it was pretty direct and candid on a range of issues," a senior US administration official said.
The State Department said Burns asked the Iranians to urgently act on the cases of a number of Americans detained in Iran.
"We stressed that the detention of these American citizens is an urgent matter that must be resolved as soon as possible," spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
The detained Americans have been identified as: Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh; retired Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi; and American hikers Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd.
American Robert Levinson has also been missing in Iran since March 2007.
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