As Iran and the world’s major powers begin talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday on curbing its nuclear program, an Israeli official said the goals needed to be clear: an end to Iran’s uranium enrichment, and the transfer out of the country of all the uranium already enriched.
It is much preferable if these goals were met though diplomacy, the official said, but added that if diplomacy did not work, these goals needed to be met “through another method.”
The official said that Israel has been conducting ongoing discussions with key players in the international community in advance of the renewed talks.
A US official said on Monday that the P5+1 – US, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France – would offer Iran some sanctions relief during the talks in Almaty if Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program.
However, the Islamic Republic could face more economic pain if the standoff remains unresolved, the official said ahead of the first meeting between the P5+1 and Iran in eight months.
There will be continued sanctions enforcement...there are other areas where pressure can be put,” the official said.
A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads the talks with Iran on behalf of the powers, said Tehran should understand that there was an “urgent need to make concrete and tangible progress” in Kazakhstan.
Both Russia and the United States stressed there was not an unlimited amount of time to resolve a dispute that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East.
“The window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever. But it is open today. It is open now,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in London. “There is still time but there is only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and negotiate in good faith.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was “no more time to waste,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in Almaty.
The immediate priority for the powers is to convince Iran to halt its highergrade enrichment, which is a relatively short technical step away from atom bomb material.
Iran, which has taken steps over the past year to expand its uranium enrichment activities in defiance of international demands to scale it back, wants a relaxation of increasingly harsh sanctions hurting its lifeline oil exports.
Western officials say the Almaty meeting is unlikely to produce any major breakthrough, in part because Iran’s presidential election in June may make it difficult for it to make significant concessions before then for domestic reasons.
But they say they hope that Iran will take their proposals seriously and engage in negotiations to try to find a diplomatic settlement.
“No one is expecting to walk out of here with a deal but... confidence building measures are important,” one senior Western official said.
Western diplomats have told Reuters that the powers would offer to ease sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals if Iran closes its Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant.
Iranian officials have indicated, however, that this will not be enough.
The US official said the powers hoped that the Almaty meeting would lead to followup talks soon. “We are ready to step up the pace of our meetings and our discussions,” the official said, adding the United States would also be prepared to hold bilateral talks with Tehran if it was serious about it.
The Iranian nuclear issue is expected to be a key issue in US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel in March, where he is expected to reassure the Israeli public that Washington is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.