Iran and officials from the major world powers met Tuesday, as both
sides prepared to present new offers in a fresh attempt to resolve a
dispute that has threatened stability in the Middle East for years.
West is expected to offer Iran limited sanctions relief if it agrees to
halt its most sensitive nuclear work, while Iran's state-run Press TV
reported Tuesday that Tehran is to offer a "comprehensive package of
proposals" during the talks.
Press TV said the proposals may
change depending on offers from the P5+1 (the five permanent members of
the Security Council – the UK, US, France, China and Russia –plus
Germany) group. The report gave no details of the proposals.
talks are the first meeting on the issue in eight months - time that
Iran has used to expand atomic activity that the West suspects is aimed
at developing a bomb capability - the powers hope Iran will engage in
serious negotiations on finding a diplomatic solution.
negotiations formally got under way in the Kazakh city of Almaty - which
follows three inconclusive meetings last year in Istanbul, Baghdad and
Moscow - at around 1:30 p.m local time (0730 GMT).
But with the
Islamic Republic's political elite pre-occupied with worsening internal
infighting ahead of a June presidential election, few believe the
meeting Tuesday and Wednesday will yield an immediate breakthrough.
best, diplomats and analysts say, Iran will take the joint offer from
the P5+1 seriously and agree to hold further talks soon on how to
implement practical steps to ease the tension.
The powers would
like to see "a recognition by our Iranian colleagues that our offer is a
serious one ... but it is not the final act in the play," said one
diplomat participating in the talks. "I wouldn't predict a decisive
A spokesman for the European Union's foreign
policy chief also cautioned Tuesday that world powers do not expect a
breakthrough agreement at the talks.
"It is clear that nobody
expects to come from Almaty with a fully-done deal," Michael Mann told a
news conference shortly after negotiations started. The EU's Catherine
Ashton oversees contacts with Iran on behalf of the six powers.
is showing no sign of backing down over a nuclear program it says is
for entirely peaceful energy purposes. The program has drawn tough
Western sanctions that have greatly reduced its oil exports, an economic
A United Nations nuclear watchdog report last week
said Iran was for the first time installing advanced centrifuges that
would allow it to significantly speed up its enrichment of uranium,
which can have both civilian and military purposes.
Western sanctions on Iran over the last 14 months are hurting Iran's
economy, slashing oil revenue and driving the currency down, which in
turn has pushed up inflation.
But they are not close to having
the crippling effect envisaged by Washington, analysts say, and - so far
at least - have not prompted a change in nuclear course by Tehran.
officials say the powers' offer - an updated version of one rejected by
Iran in the last meeting in June - would include an easing of sanctions
of trade in gold and other precious metals if Tehran closes its
underground Fordow enrichment plant.
The stakes are high. Israel
has hinted strongly at possible military action to prevent its foe from
obtaining such arms. Iran has threatened to retaliate hard if attacked.
fact that the meeting takes place in Kazakhstan - which gave up its
nuclear arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early
1990s - has symbolic resonance.
A US official said the Central
Asian state could serve as a "good role model" for the benefits of
making "certain choices", in clear reference to Iran's atomic ambitions.
officials acknowledge an easing of U.S. and European sanctions on trade
in gold represents a relatively modest step. But it could be used as
part of barter transactions that might allow Iran to circumvent tight
Iran so far appears to be showing little
interest. Its Foreign Ministry spokesman last week dismissed the
reported incentive as insufficient and a senior Iranian lawmaker has
ruled out closing Fordow, located close to the holy city of Qom.
says it enriches uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent to
make fuel for a medical research reactor in the capital Tehran. But it
also represents most of the work required to reach weapons-grade
material of 90 percent.
A US official said the powers hoped that
the Almaty meeting would lead to follow-up talks, either at a political
or technical level, before Iran's New Year celebrations in March.