Iran stance 'puzzles' negotiators after first day of nuclear talks

The threat of deadlock loomed over Iran nuclear talks in Kazakhstan today after Iran presented a revised set of proposals.

Shamil Zhumatov/AP
Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, poses for the press in Almaty, largest Kazakhstan city on Friday, at a start of high-level talks between world powers and Iranian officials.

Iran nuclear talks with six world powers faced deadlock as they resumed today, when Iran presented a revised set of proposals that were quickly portrayed as inadequate by Western diplomats.

The world powers had expected “concrete action” from Iran on their latest proposal, which calls on Iran to curb its most sensitive nuclear work in exchange for a partial suspension of sanctions.

Iran instead sought to ensure that any first concessions and confidence-building measures were part of a process with defined “dimensions” and a clear “final outcome,” Ali Bagheri, Iran’s deputy negotiator told journalists in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Iran had “stressed that actions that are referred to as confidence-building measures must be considered as part of a larger, more comprehensive plan. They are not separate,” Mr. Bagheri said of the proposal, which envisions a six-month timeframe and future, unspecified “additional significant steps.”

With one day of talks remaining, it was not yet clear if any initial, incremental agreement was possible, which would be the first out of the year-long diplomatic process.

Iran and the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) held a “long and substantive discussion,” said a Western diplomat, “but we remain a long way apart on the substance. We are now evaluating the situation and will meet again tomorrow.”

Bagheri said Iran presented “specific plans and proposals … to start a new cooperation,” based on points Iran first put forward in a PowerPoint presentation 10 months ago in Moscow.

A surprise

Yet Iran’s presentation appeared to surprise the P5+1, which had telegraphed its expectations that Iran commit to its own proposal, put forward at "Almaty I" talks in late February. Iran had hailed that proposal as a potential “turning point.”

“We are somewhat puzzled by the Iranians’ characterization of what they presented,” said the Western diplomat after the first session of talks.

“There has not been a clear and concrete response to the [P5+1’s] Almaty I proposal,” said the diplomat. “There were some interesting but not fully explained general comments on our ideas.”

The Iranian presentation “was mainly a reworking of what they said in Moscow,” added the Western diplomat. The P5+1 delegates “insisted on a second plenary this afternoon … so that [Iran] can respond in the kind of detail that will enable us to make progress.”

Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili answered all P5+1 questions “in detail,” said Bagheri.

The proposal calls on Iran to take the first steps to stop its most sensitive nuclear work – uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is a few technical steps from bomb-grade – and to suspend work at a fortified underground facility at Fordow, near the city of Qom.

Only after those steps are taken by Iran, according to a version of the proposal seen by The Christian Science Monitor, would sanctions be eased on gold and precious metal dealings, and petrochemical exports. Far more painful US and European sanctions against Iran’s oil exports and central bank would remain untouched.

Though some Iranian officials have said that proposal had “no balance,” others have issued positive statements.

Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili, on the eve of the Almaty II talks, repeated that one of Iran’s top priorities – alongside lifting of sanctions – was recognition that Iran had the “right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“We think our talks tomorrow can go forward with one word. That is the acceptance of the rights of Iran, particularly the right to enrichment,” he said at a university in Almaty, according to Reuters.

While those words raised red flags with Iran analysts – Iran insisted that that right and sanctions be lifted as a precondition for further discussion at initial talks in Istanbul in January 2012 – an Iranian official said today Mr. Jalili’s comments did not amount to a precondition in Almaty. 

Follow Scott Peterson on Twitter at @peterson__scott 

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