Iran, big powers at odds in Kazakhstan nuclear talks

Western diplomats say Iran negotiators failed to respond to offer made by P5+1; Jalili emphasizes Tehran's "right to enrichment."

April 5, 2013 15:54
4 minute read.
Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU's Catherine Ashton at nuclear talks, April 5, 2013.

Saeed Jalili and Catherine Ashton 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov)

ALMATY - World powers and Iran still appeared far apart on Friday in negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program that were aimed at calming tensions which could boil over into war.


Jalili: Iran has a right to enrichment

For years Iran has resisted ever-harsher sanctions and pressure to retreat from a nuclear program that enjoys broad support amongst its fractious political leadership.

Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said in a speech at Almaty University on the eve of the latest talks that their success hinged on "acceptance of the rights of Iran, particularly the right to enrichment."

The six nations, however, say this right only applies when nuclear work is carried out under sufficient oversight by UN inspectors, something Iran has refused to grant.

For now, Iran may play for time, trying to keep diplomacy on track to avert new sanctions before the June election.

Tehran's conversion of some of its higher-grade uranium stockpile to nuclear reactor fuel may have bought time for diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute peacefully.

But if talks fail to produce sufficient progress, Western governments are likely to impose yet more economic penalties, with the double aim of pressuring Tehran while seeking to persuade Israel to hold back from any military action.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told visiting US senators on Thursday that Tehran's nuclear work must be stopped.

"We cannot allow a situation in which a regime that calls for our annihilation has the weapons of annihilation," he said.

US President Barack Obama sought to cool tempers during a trip to Israel in March, saying diplomacy was the best option, but he hinted at possible military action as a last resort.

"The probable failure of this round (of talks) does not mean that (military) strikes are imminent or that diplomacy later this year has no chance," said Cliff Kupchan, Middle East director at the Eurasia consultancy. "Obama's recent trip reassured Israel that Washington holds a tough position."

In the best case, Western diplomats say, this could give the sides time to iron out details of any future deal.

"If Iran ... really engages in a negotiation, even if we all agreed today on the terms of an agreement, it would take time to put (it) together because this is a highly technical agreement," a senior US official said before heading to Almaty.

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