Israeli officials on Tuesday dismissed as a “ploy” claims by Iran that it was
prepared to make an offer to the major powers during talks in Kazakhstan, after
the US proposed limited sanctions relief in return for a halt to the Islamic
Republic’s most controversial nuclear work.
Tuesday marked the first
meeting in eight months between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN
Security Council plus Germany – the P5+1. Three rounds of talks last year – in
Istanbul, Moscow and Baghdad – led to no progress, and Iran has used the last
eight months to expand its uranium enrichment activity.
A second day of
talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is expected Wednesday.
in the extreme” that the current round would lead to any progress, Israeli
officials were careful not to say that the talks were a mistake or
“The Iranian strategy is clear: to draw out diplomacy
and continue to engage, but in parallel to continue enriching uranium,” one
official said. “They are engaged in a consistent strategy to draw out the talks.
Their ultimate goal is to keep talking, and one day to surprise the world with
The official reiterated that for Israel what was
important was not the means to the end – that Iran not be allowed to obtain
nuclear weapons – but rather the end result itself.
With that, he said,
diplomacy has so far not been effective, sanctions are not working and the
Iranians are galloping ahead despite diplomatic pressure.
official said, believes the pressure has to be dramatically upgraded, coupled
with convincing the Iranians that there is a credible military option. He said
the international community must also clearly state what the “or else” part of
the “stop the bomb or else” equation is.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor
Liberman, the new chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee, wished the P5+1 luck in their talks with the Iranians.
said, “we have no illusions about Iran’s intentions to drag out the process and
Liberman then called for the powers to take “more practical
steps” to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
community must rely on its experience with North Korea and understand that
sanctions alone are not enough,” he said.
With the Islamic Republic’s
political elite preoccupied with worsening infighting before a presidential
election in June, Israeli officials are not the only ones doubting the meeting
will yield a quick breakthrough.
“It is clear that nobody expects to come
from Almaty with a fully done deal,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton, who oversees contacts with Iran on behalf of the world powers,
said shortly after talks started.
A US official said on Monday that the
powers’ updated offer to Iran – a modified version of one rejected by Iran last
year – would take into account its recent nuclear advances, but would also take
“some steps in the sanctions arena.”
This would address some of Iran’s
concerns but not meet tions be lifted, the official said.
In Almaty, a source close to the
Iranian negotiating team said on Tuesday that Iran would put up a
“Depending on what proposal we receive from the other
side, we will present our own proposal of the same weight,” the source told
reporters. “The continuation of talks depends on how this exchange of proposals
At best, diplomats and analysts say, Iran will take the
joint offer from the US, Russia, France, Germany, Britain and China seriously
and agree to hold further talks soon on practical steps to ease the
“We are looking for flexibility from the Iranians,” said
Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann.
But Iran, whose chief negotiator Saeed
Jalili is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is a veteran of
Iran’s 1980s war against Iraq and the Western powers that backed it, has shown
no sign of willingness to scale back its nuclear work. Tehran refuses to close
its underground Fordow enrichment plant, a condition the powers have set for any
A UN 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.
Tightening 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.
The central bank
governor was quoted on Monday as saying Iran’s inflation was likely to top 30
percent in coming weeks as the sanctions contribute to shortages and
But analysts say they are not close to having the crippling
effect envisaged by Washington and – so far at least – they have not prompted a
change in Iran’s nuclear course.
Israeli officials maintain there is room
to “dramatically upgrade” the sanctions.
Western officials said the
powers’ offer would include an easing of sanctions on trade in gold and other
precious metals if Tehran closes Fordow.
The facility is used for
enriching uranium to 20% fissile purity, a short technical step from
Iran’s stockpile of highergrade uranium has grown to about
167 kg., an increase of roughly 18 kg. since mid- November. While the pile is
still approaching the level of 240 kg. that Israel has set as its “red line,”
the growth rate has slowed sharply.
The news website Al Monitor said on
Tuesday that the powers’ offer could also include some relief for the
petrochemical industry and in banking. Officials present in Almaty declined to
comment on the report.
The fact that the meeting is taking 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 “role model” for the benefits of making