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Negotiations Over Iran's Nuclear Program Come Down To The Wire


Today is a self-imposed deadline for nuclear talks in Switzerland. So far, Iran, the U.S. and other world powers have not said formally that they have a deal, but officials are telling the Associated Press that they expect to release a statement and documents detailing an agreement later today. These nuclear talks have at least three layers. One layer is technical - working out exactly how the world can assure Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons. One layer is political - negotiators have to reach a deal that will enjoy enough support in both Tehran and Washington. And you could call the third layer cultural - a long record of distrust between Iran and the United States. Joseph Cirincione is tracking all of this. He's president of the Ploughshares Fund, which seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons. He's in our studios. Welcome to the program, sir.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the root of that distrust?

CIRINCIONE: Well, in 1953, the United States and Great Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran. Very few Americans know that. Every Iranian knows that. Our memories of Iran really start with the hostage crisis, when militant, radical Islamic militants seized in the U.S. Embassy against all international protocols and laws...

INSKEEP: In 1979, right?

CIRINCIONE: ...In 1979 and held men and women there for over 400 days. That pretty much burned into the American psyche an image of a radical, unreasonable Iran, and it's only continued since then. Iran has stark differences with Israel, and that contributes to this. Israel is a fierce adversary of Iran. Iran funds Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups that fight against Israel. So the whole image of Iran in the American mind is one of a uncontrollable evil and adversary, and that has stuck. I would say Iran is perhaps the most demonized country in recent American history. We don't trust Iran.

INSKEEP: Well, let's try to figure that out, though. When you say a demonized country, that suggests that they are unfairly tarred, but you also named a lot of acts there.


INSKEEP: They've done a lot to deserve that reputation, haven't they?

CIRINCIONE: Oh, and many more. Human Rights Report just filed with the U.N. shows that they kill - they execute more people than any other country, having executed a thousand last year. They brutally suppress dissidents. They go abroad to kill dissidents in their beds at night. No, this is a tough, tough regime. The question is, are they somehow that different from other regimes? Look at Saudi Arabia for example - a repressive Muslim country. A country that doesn't allow women to drive, that stones women to death, that just beheaded a woman in a public square, that has aided terrorist groups around the world. Al-Qaida began in Saudi Arabia. The people who drove the planes into the towers in New York was Saudis and Egyptians.

>>INSKEEP The twin towers, right, right.

CIRINCIONE: So where exactly is the moral difference between Saudi Arabia and Iran? One is our friend; the other is our adversary.

INSKEEP: So now we have the United States on the edge of reaching this nuclear deal with Iran and the question is, can the United States, to some extent, trust Iran, given this great gulf of distrust? What's the answer to that, if you favor an agreement?

CIRINCIONE: This is not about trust. This is about reaching an agreement. It was Henry Kissinger who said that some people see negotiations as weakness. I see them, he said, as a tool for establishing our moral and psychological edge. It's a device for gaining strategic advantage. That's the way you have to look at these talks. What do we get out of it? These talks are not going to solve all the problems we have with Iran. They are not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East. But they may solve the most dangerous. This negotiation could stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and that is good enough.

INSKEEP: Just got a few seconds here. Ronald Reagan used to say trust but verify. Is the technology good enough that people can verify what Iran is doing if a deal is made?

CIRINCIONE: The current national security adviser, Susan Rice, says distrust and verify. And, yes, the regime that we're about to put in place with this agreement will most likely be the most intrusive inspection regime ever put in place. We will catch them if they cheat.

INSKEEP: Joseph Cirincione, thanks very much for coming by.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's president of the Ploughshares Fund. And just a note of full disclosure here, the Ploughshares Fund is a supporter of NPR's coverage of nonproliferation and national security. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.