World Powers, Iran Make Little Progress in Kazakhstan Nuclear Talks

Western diplomats express disappointment over Iranian officials' refusal to respond to a P5+1 proposal that would restrict the Islamic republic's uranium enrichment in exchange for modest relief from sanctions; talks to renew Saturday.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

World powers and Iranian representatives made little progress on Friday during talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan regarding the Islamic regime's nuclear program, officials said. The talks between the two sides are due to renew on Saturday.

The parties held two separate three-hour-long meetings, and representatives of the P5+1 world powers - the U.S., Russia, China, Germany, the U.K. and France - expressed grave disappointment over the positions that were presented by the Iranians in the first meeting, and said they fear the talks will fail.

After the second meeting, Western diplomats said the Iranians were slightly more serious, but stressed that major disagreements remain.

The talks, according to a U.S. official, were to focus on the Iranian's response to the offer presented to them during the last round of talks. The toned-down offer requested a diminishing of high-grade uranium enrichment, and a halting of activity at the Fordow underground facility, in return for the loosening of sanctions.

Iran's deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri convened a press conference at the end of Friday morning's meeting and said that the Iranian delegation presented the powers with an updated proposal with answers to the West's proposal.

Western diplomats who participated in the talks, however, said that the meeting did not yield any results and that the Iranians did not present a single clear and serious response to the proposal presented by the world powers regarding the limitation of uranium enrichment.

"We are somewhat puzzled by the Iranians' characterization of what they presented at this morning's plenary," a Western diplomat said. "There has not yet been a clear and concrete response to the...proposal (from the six powers)."

The diplomat said that the Iranians, instead of discussing the core issues, went back to focus on the terms of the negotiation and the issues they discussed in the Moscow talks more than six months ago.

Following the failed first meeting, the Western representatives demanded to hold a second meeting to give Iranians another opportunity to present a response to the world powers' proposal. 

Bagheri gave a briefing to reporters following the second meeting, saying that Iran presented its proposal in response to the world powers' proposal. He said that the Iranian proposal was detailed and will enable future cooperation between the parties.

A Western diplomat told reported that in the second meeting there was a more serious discussion than in the first one, but stressed that there is still disagreement between the sides on major issues.

Following the talks Friday, the Iranian and Russian delegations held a bilateral meeting.

On the eve of talks, senior American officials said that the focus of the discussions would be Iran’s response to the offer made previously by the six powers, suggesting that Iran restrict its enrichment of uranium to what is considered a high level of 20 percent and suspend its operations at the underground facility at Fordow, in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

The current round of talks will be an extension of the previous round, held in Kazakhstan at the end of February. In the course of those discussions, representatives of the six powers presented the Iranians with a new, more moderate proposal. Two weeks ago, low-level talks were held in Istanbul with Iranian officials. During a 12-hour meeting, the Iranians received numerous responses and clarifications regarding the new proposals.

A senior American official who is part of the negotiating team said that the powers expect Iran to come up with a clear and significant reply to the offer during the present round of talks. He added that the offer is balanced and fair and addresses the most urgent issue causing concern to the international community, namely the enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent mark.

In his speech at the United Nations in September 2012, Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu defined a "red line" for Israel, determined by Iran’s amassing of 250 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent. This amount will allow Iran to rapidly achieve further enrichment to 90 percent and the assembly of one atomic bomb. Over the last few months, the Iranians have been careful to stay away from this amount. Every few weeks they divert some of the 20 percent enriched uranium they produce into fuel rods used in a research reactor in Tehran.

In addition, the new offer does not insist on removing all of the 20-percent-enriched uranium from Iran and allows it to keep some of it for production of nuclear fuel for its research reactor in Tehran, which produces isotopes for medical use. The offer also calls for enhanced supervision of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The powers demand to shorten the intervals between visits by inspectors in order to prevent Iran from surging ahead in their program without detection by the IAEA.

In exchange, the six powers will agree to ease the economic sanctions imposed on Iran and to commit to suspending imposition of further sanctions. However, the powers did not agree to suspend the oil embargo put in place by the European Union.

Over the last few days the Iranians have demonstrated a positive attitude to the upcoming negotiations, but still present a tough bargaining position. In Thursday's speech, Jalili said that “Iran expects the U.S. to change its behavior, and this will be tested in the coming negotiations. Anyone coming to negotiate should do so with reason and not with threats stating that all options are on the table."

Iran's representatives led by their top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (front R) take part in talks with top officials from (back R-L) U.S., U.K., France, EU, China, Germany, Russia, April 5, 2013. Credit: AFP
Saeed Jalili, right, at nuclear talks with world powers in Almaty, Kazakhstan, April 5, 2013.
Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council shakes hands with Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, April 5, 2013
Iran's representatives led by their top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (front R) take part in talks with top officials from (back R-L) U.S., U.K., France, EU, China, Germany, Russia, April 5, 2013.
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Saeed Jalili, right, at nuclear talks with world powers in Almaty, Kazakhstan, April 5, 2013. Credit: AFP
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Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council shakes hands with Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday, April 5, 2013 Credit: AP
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Iran's representatives led by their top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (front R) take part in talks with top officials from (back R-L) U.S., U.K., France, EU, China, Germany, Russia, April 5, 2013. Credit: AFP

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