Representatives of the six world powers known as P5+1 - the U.S., Russia, China, Germany, the U.K. and France - convened with Iranian delegates on Friday morning in Almaty, Kazakhstan, for a fresh round of talks on the Iranian nuclear program.
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Senior U.S. officials stated that the talks would 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.
After the morning session ended, the Iranian delegation left for Friday prayers in a mosque in the city. In the afternoon, a series of bilateral meetings are scheduled between the Iranian delegation and representatives of the world powers. At this stage, a bilateral meeting with the American representative is not scheduled.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stipulated Thursday that any breakthrough in the upcoming round of talks with the P5+1 group would only be possible if the powers recognize the Islamic Republic's right to enrich uranium independently.
"We think our talks tomorrow can go forward with one word. That is the acceptance of the rights of Iran, particularly the right to enrichment," he said in a speech at Almaty University, referring to the P5+1 negotiations.
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 Minister Benjamin 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."