Members of the Iranian delegation, led by Supreme National
Security Council Secretary and chief nuclear negotiator
Saeed Jalili (2nd R), sit at a table during talks in
Almaty, Kazakhstan. REUTERS/Ilyas Omarov/Pool
Iran was upbeat on Wednesday after talks with world
powers about its nuclear work ended with an agreement to meet
again, but Western officials said it had yet to take concrete
steps to ease their fears of a secret weapons programme.
The United States, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany
offered to ease sanctions slightly in return for Iran curbing
its most sensitive work, but had made clear they expected no
breakthrough in the talks in Kazakhstan, the first in eight
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the talks had been
"useful" and that a serious engagement by Iran could lead to
a comprehensive deal in a decade-old dispute that has
threatened to trigger a new Middle East war.
Iran's foreign minister said in Vienna he was "very
confident" a deal could be reached and its chief negotiator
said he believed the Almaty meeting could be a "turning
The two sides agreed to hold expert-level talks in Istanbul
on March 18 to discuss the offer, and return to Almaty for
political discussions on April 5-6, when Western diplomats
made clear they wanted to see substantive movement by Iran.
"Iran knows what it needs to do, the president has made clear
his determination to implement his policy that Iran will not
have a nuclear weapon," Kerry said in Paris.
A senior U.S. official in Almaty added: "What we care about
at the end is concrete results."
Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed
power, was watching the talks closely. It has strongly hinted
it might attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to
ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon. Iran denies any
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said economic
sanctions were failing and urged the international community
to threaten Iran with military action.
Western officials said the offer presented by the six powers
included an easing of a ban on trade in gold and other
precious metals, and a relaxation of an import embargo on
Iranian petrochemical products. They gave no further details.
In exchange, a senior U.S official said, Iran would among
other things have to suspend uranium enrichment to a fissile
concentration of 20 percent at its Fordow underground
facility and "constrain the ability to quickly resume
This appeared to be a softening of a previous demand that
Iran ship out its entire stockpile of higher-grade enriched
uranium, which it says it needs to produce medical isotopes.
Iran says it has a sovereign right to enrich uranium for
peaceful purposes, and wants to fuel nuclear power plants so
that it can export more oil.
But 20-percent purity is far higher than that needed for
nuclear power, and rings alarm bells abroad because it is
only a short technical step away from weapons-grade.
Iran's growing stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium is
already more than half-way to a "red line" that Israel has
made clear it would consider sufficient for a bomb.
The U.S. official said the latest proposal would
"significantly restrict the accumulation of near-20-percent
enriched uranium in Iran, while enabling the Iranians to
produce sufficient fuel" for their Tehran medical reactor.
Iran had previously indicated that 20-percent enrichment was
up for negotiation if it received the fuel from abroad
Chief negotiator Saeed Jalili suggested Iran could discuss
the issue, although he appeared to rule out shutting down
Fordow. He said the powers had not made that specific demand.
Western officials were aware that the closeness of Iran's
presidential election in June is raising political tensions
in Tehran and made rapid progress unlikely.
One diplomat in Almaty said the Iranians appeared to be
suggesting at the negotiations that they were opening new
avenues, but that it was not clear if this was really the
"Everyone is saying Iran was more positive and portrayed the
talks as a win," said Iran expert Dina Esfandiary of the
International Institute for Strategic Studies. "I reckon the
reason for that is that they are saving face internally while
buying time with the West until after the elections."
The Iranian rial, which has lost more than half its foreign
exchange value in the last year as sanctions bite, rose some
2 percent on Wednesday, currency tracking web sites reported.