ALMATY - World powers ended two days of talks with Iran on Wednesday
with no sign of a breakthrough, and Iran appearing to rule out closing
the underground Fordow enrichment plant. However, the two sides have
agreed to meet at expert level in Istanbul next month and to hold
further high-level negotiations in Kazakhstan in April. Iran said the
nuclear talks were a "positive step."
In their latest attempt to
break years of stalemate in the dispute, the powers are offering Iran a
relaxation of some of the sanctions that are taking a heavy toll on its
Western officials have confirmed the offer includes
some limited sanctions easing if Iran closes the Fordow nuclear facility, an underground site where it
carries out its most controversial uranium enrichment work.
showed no flexibility on the closure of Fordow, but Saeed Jalili,
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, suggested Iran could discuss its
production of nuclear fuel enriched to a fissile concentration of 20
percent - which greatly worries the West.
In comments in Persian
translated into English, Jalili told a news conference Fordow was under
the supervision of the UN nuclear agency and there was "no
justification" to shut it down.
Asked about the production of 20
percent enriched fuel - a relatively short technical step away from
weapons-grade material - he reiterated Iran's position that it needed
this for a research reactor and had a right to produce it.
Jalili indicated that Iran may be prepared to discuss the issue: "This
can be discussed in the negotiations ... in a view of confidence
Iran has also previously suggested that 20 percent
enrichment was up for negotiations if it received the fuel from abroad
instead. It also wants sanctions lifted.
Jalili said the six
powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China -
at Almaty had tried to "get closer to our viewpoint", which he said was
The Iranian statement said: "We consider these talks a
positive step which could be completed by taking a positive and
constructive approach and taking reciprocal steps."
Iran said the expert-level talks between
the two sides would be held in Istanbul on March 18 and another round
of political negotiations in Almaty on April 5-6.
negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said the Istanbul
meeting would take place on March 17-18 and gave the same dates as Iran
of April 5-6 for the Almaty talks.
The meeting in Almaty was the
first between the world powers and Iran in eight months. Western
officials described the first day of the talks as "useful". Iranian
state television described the atmosphere in the discussions as "very
The outcome will be closely watched in Israel, which
has strongly hinted that it could attack Iran's nuclear sites if
diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop Tehran's uranium enrichment
powers hope Iran will react positively to their nuclear proposal
presented at the talks when they meet Tehran's negotiators in the next
two months, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put
forward," Ashton said after the two-day talks concluded. "We have to see
what happens next," she said.
Hopes of a significant easing of
the deadlock in the decade-old dispute were dented when Russian media
cited a source close to the talks as saying there had been no clear
"So far there is no particular rapprochement. There is
an impression that the atmosphere is not very good," Interfax news
agency quoted the source as saying shortly before the talks ended.
had seen scant chances of a conclusive deal with Iran before a June
presidential election - with the political elite preoccupied with
domestic issues - but they had hoped to hold follow-up talks soon.