RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
International diplomats will gather this week in Geneva in hopes of picking up where they left off last week in talks about Iran's nuclear program. Those previous high-level negotiations came very close to a deal but ended with an objection by the French delegation, which claimed the proposal did not do enough to restrict Iran's nuclear capabilities. Meanwhile, there's a bi-partisan effort on Capitol Hill to pass a new round of sanctions against Iran. For more on how all this is playing in Iran, we've called up Thomas Erdbrink with the New York Times in Tehran. Thanks so much being with us.
THOMAS ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Let's start with this latest series of negotiations. This has been happening on and off for so many years now. How closely are Iranians paying attention to these negotiations?
ERDBRINK: Not as close as you would expect them to be if you look at the level of seriousness of the negotiations. People, I guess like other people across the world, have grown tired of these talks, of them always failing. Still, there is a sense that this time things are a little bit different. And when you talk to the greengrocer or to your hairdresser, they feel that because of this election of new moderate President Hassan Rouhani, there is a chance that Iran's leaders will be a bit more flexible in these talks and that that could lead to some kind of a breakthrough.
MARTIN: There's a suggestion here in the U.S. that Iran is coming closer to the negotiating table now because the years of economic sanctions are finally taking their toll, that that is the primary driver to getting a deal done. Is that true do you think?
ERDBRINK: Well, I spoke to a guy recently who built buses here in the city of Hamadan. It's about 350 kilometer south of Tehran. And he described to me how his business had flourished 10 years ago, how he produced more and more buses with parts that he would buy from China. Then he would go to the bank around the corner of his office and make the payments to his suppliers. But now the production went down by almost 70 percent. He's rarely making any buses. He had to lay off over 100 people. And when he goes to the bank, try and pay to his Chinese suppliers, the door is shut for him because Iranian banks cannot transfer money anymore because of the sanctions. Well, this little story in a nutshell tells you what Iranian people are facing. Naturally, people feel that the sanctions are destroying them.
MARTIN: So, talks are supposed to pick up again this coming week. You've been following all the machinations of this. Who has got to concede what in order to break this impasse?
ERDBRINK: Well, if you just take a step back and look at it very simply, what the West should do is recognize what Iran calls its sovereign right to enrichment of uranium, which would mean that the Iranians within their own borders could control the entire fuel circle that leads to either nuclear energy or - and this is, of course, what concerns the West - to a nuclear weapon.
Well, what the Iranians should do is to agree that their nuclear program will be so monitored to such a level that the Western and world powers will be convinced that Iran is actually not making a nuclear weapon. Now, if you get into the details of what such an agreement should look like, that's where all the problems start. So, even if there is a breakthrough in the upcoming talks, we must remember that this will probably an interim agreement, which kind of speaks about the broad lines but not about the fine details of monitoring, of the way the Iranians should limit their nuclear program.
And then we reach the new phase in which all the negotiating partners have to go back to their own respective Congress or parliament to see how hard-liners in, for instance, the United States and Iran feel about this. So, the only thing that can happen is we have a first step to a new form of negotiating to enter an agreement but not an overall solution.
MARTIN: New York Times correspondent Thomas Erdbrink in Iran. Thanks so much for talking with us.
ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.