Iran Says Nuclear Talks 'Positive'
by Michael Lipin February 27, 2013
Iran and world powers have agreed to more talks about the Iranian nuclear program, after meeting in Kazakhstan for two days of negotiations that yielded no major breakthroughs.
As the talks ended Wednesday in the Kazakh city of Almaty, Iran's top negotiator Saeed Jalili described the latest proposal by the six powers as 'positive,' saying it is 'more realistic' than previous ones. He did not say how Iran will respond to the offer by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Diplomats in Almaty said the world powers proposed lifting sanctions on Iranian trade in gold and other precious metals in return for Iran stopping the enrichment of uranium to 20-percent purity at its Fordo underground facility and other sites.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran's enrichment activities are aimed at developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
The diplomats also said the world powers did not propose any lifting of sanctions that have weakened Iran's key oil and financial sectors. In previous talks, the six nations had offered to end restrictions on spare parts for Iran's civilian airliners, but Tehran had appeared unimpressed.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represented the six nations, said she hopes the Iranian side will look at their new proposal 'positively.'
'The offer addresses international concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program, but is also responsive to Iranian ideas.'
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Ashton said the 'main result' of the Almaty talks is an agreement for both sides to hold expert-level talks next month in Istanbul, Turkey, followed by another meeting of top negotiators in the Kazakh capital in early April.
Ashton said the Istanbul talks are 'important' because they are an opportunity for Iranian experts to examine the world powers' offer in detail.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Almaty talks were 'useful.' Speaking on a visit to Paris, he said if Iran engages in serious negotiations, it could lead to a long-term and comprehensive resolution of the nuclear dispute.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, said Iran's agreement to keep talking is somewhat of a surprise.
'The Iranians have their own political process they have to navigate. They have June elections,' he said. 'So, it was surprising to some of us that they did agree to another round of talks because there are strong political reasons why they simply wouldn't want to reach a deal in the near term.'
Kimball said Tehran is also trying to safeguard national pride.
'Iran sees its nuclear program as an expression of its sovereignty and they seek respect,' he said. 'And there are those in Iran, including the supreme leader, who do not want to be seen as succumbing to international pressure.'
EU foreign policy chief Ashton said 'real optimism' in the talks will come only when Iran agrees to implement its part of the proposal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iran recently began installing a new generation of centrifuges at its Natanz uranium-enrichment plant, a move U.S. officials have deemed 'provocative.'
In the past few years, the U.N. Security Council has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran to try to pressure it into curbing enrichment activities that could be used to make a nuclear bomb. Several nations, including the United States, have imposed unilateral penalties on Iranian individuals and businesses.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday the international community should intensify those measures against Iran and warn it that continued enrichment will lead to 'military sanctions.' He did not say what military action should be taken.
Israel has long warned that it could strike Iranian nuclear sites to prevent the development of a bomb that it says would threaten its existence due to Iranian leaders' calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Iran sees Israel's widely-assumed nuclear arsenal as a major threat to peace in the region.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list