SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Two days of talks on Iran's nuclear program have come to an end in Kazakhstan, and a deal still seems elusive. Yesterday, Western officials said that Iran had failed to respond to the latest plan to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for a modest easing of sanctions. NPR's Peter Kenyon has followed the talks in Almaty. Peter, thanks for being with us.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: Fine, thanks. Anything to show for this beyond a willingness to keep talks going?
KENYON: Just barely. And you have to be a little generous to say they're even definitely going to keep talking. There was no new venue announced for the next set of talks unlike the first round in Almaty, where this round was announced immediately. It's not clear why that happened, but the impression from the initial news conference is was that it was the P6 Plus One, the six world powers, who wanted time to go back to capitals and consult and decide how to proceed next. Now, that could be read as there wasn't enough common ground here to be worth continuing, or perhaps you could take it at face value. In any event, Lady Catherine Ashton said these talks were long and intensive, and as she described what that meant, she said there were some positive aspects to take away from it but they had nothing to do with the real substance at hand. Now, here's what she said.
LADY CATHERINE ASHTON: For the first time that I've seen, a real back and forward between us, where we were able to discuss details, to pose questions and to get answers directly on the sort of issues that we need to discuss in order to be able to move forward. However, what matters in the end is substance, and that we are still considerable way apart.
SIMON: Peter, trying to read between the lines a bit here and what you've been able to hear about while reporting the story, are these issues actually over nuclear issues or do other factors come into play; national pride, domestic politics, that sort of thing?
KENYON: There are definitely other issues at play, and Iranian national pride has to rank among one of them because the Iranians have from the start felt that their proposals were not being treated quite as equally as the P5 Plus One proposals, the international side. So, they made a point at this round. Dr. Jalili, Saeed Jalili, the lead negotiator, did not respond directly to the international proposal. Instead, he went back to the last Iranian proposal, which was from Moscow last June, as if to say, OK, you made a step from your position, now I'm going to make a step from our position. Let's see how you deal with that. And he said now it's up to the international world powers to come back and build the confidence of the Iranian people.
SIMON: Peter, what the international concern over North Korea now? Does that give some added resonance to these talks between the U.S. and Iran and other nations?
KENYON: It certainly provided a dramatic backdrop. I mean, you have to note that Iran and North Korea are very different nations, different sensibilities, different circumstances. However, the question came up more than once here, and certainly for critics such as Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, it was a perfect opportunity, which he took advantage of, to try and make a comparison and say, see, this is why we can never let Iran have a nuclear weapon, at any cost. Iran, of course, says it doesn't want them. The question is can they bridge decades of mistrust and agree on those steps?
SIMON: Peter, is there a next step, and where might it? Because you know the international community is also concerned that if you just keeps talks going for years, that, in the end, is just a delaying tactic.
KENYON: That is a major concern, and President Obama and EU leaders have been careful not to set any deadlines on diplomacy, and Iran does seem to be paying some attention to the concerns of the West and Israel. They have slowed down their uranium enrichment, which is the immediate cause of concern, and again today, Saeed Jalili made positive comments about possibly talking about 20 percent. The question is can they overcome these cultural and political hurdles and actually get those on the table at the same time with both focusing on them.
SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Thanks very much.
KENYON: You're welcome Scott.
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SIMON: And the first provincial reconstruction team closed in Afghanistan this week. Their mission was to try to win hearts and minds. Former State Department diplomat, Kyle Weston, tells host Rachel Martin teams leave behind a mixed legacy. That's tomorrow morning on WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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