As a second round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program opens in Almaty on April 5 analysts are not expecting major breakthroughs, but international negotiators will be pushing a proposal advanced when they met in the same venue in February.
Although there was no breakthrough, those talks in Kazakhstan – regarded as a fitting host due to its own non-proliferation efforts – unlocked an eight-month negotiations deadlock.
The six-nation P5+1 group (the five UN Security Council permanent members – the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France – plus Germany) had been pressing Iran to end medium-level uranium enrichment, close its Fordow underground enrichment facility, and hand over stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium – production of which marks a critical stage in bomb making – for international safe-keeping.
Tehran insists it is not pursuing nuclear weapons and that its program is for peaceful purposes. It has pushed for crippling international sanctions to be lifted without preconditions.
Negotiators have been tight-lipped about the February proposal. Reuters reported on April 3, citing unidentified Western officials, that the six-nation group has offered to ease gold sanctions and relax a petrochemicals embargo in return for Iran suspending medium-level uranium enrichment.
An unidentified senior US official told a State Department briefing on April 3 that the new proposal is “very balanced,” describing it as “a confidence-building measure on the road to full compliance with Security Council resolutions and [Iran’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] obligations.”
“[T]here has been a very positive line out of Tehran on the talks so far,” the official added. “We hope that that positive talk will now be matched with some concrete responses and actions on the Iranian side.”
EU foreign policy chief and P5+1 chair Catherine Ashton said the same day she was “cautiously optimistic.” “But I am also very clear that it is very important that we do get a response,” Reuters quoted her as saying.
Chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili voiced measured optimism after the February talks, though he said there was a long way to go before reaching consensus. Iran’s June presidential election plus international tensions over the Syrian conflict appear to be complicating the negotiations.
Iran’s nuclear program featured when the Israeli and US presidents met on March 20 in Jerusalem. There, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his view that “diplomacy and sanctions must be augmented by a clear and credible threat of military action.”
“We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there’s still time to do so,” Barack Obama countered, adding: “All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons.”