Iran has found something to cheer about the latest round of its nuclear dialogue with the six global powers that concluded on Wednesday in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan.
Not given to hyperbole and choosing his words carefully, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top negotiator to the talks with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany said that the two day dialogue was a “positive step which can be completed with a constructive approach and reciprocal steps".
At a media conference, Mr. Jalili did not set out in detail a possible road-map towards normalisation. Nevertheless, he pointedly said that Iran’s interlocutors had proposed “tangible steps” and proposals for building confidence that have to be implemented within a six month timeline. Iran’s Fars News Agency (FNA) quoted Mr. Jalili as saying that during the talks, Tehran insisted that “steps (by the two sides) should be taken concurrently and in a balanced way and that the proposals shouldn't violate Iran's rights". Iran has made it plain that it would not surrender its “nuclear rights” — widely interpreted as words that convey Tehran’s insistence not to give up uranium enrichment, despite enormous pressure that has been imposed on Iran by the United States and its allies to suspend the process.
Analysts point out that Iran may be ready to halt 20 per cent enrichment, but would insist on refining uranium to 5 per cent purity to meet the future fuel demands of its civilian atomic power reactors.
It was evident that the latest round of talks has generated some early momentum. Technical experts from the two sides have been marshaled for a meeting in Istanbul on March 17-18. That would be followed by another “political meeting” in Almaty on April 6, said Mr. Jalili. The New York Times is quoting western diplomats as saying that the technical meeting in Istanbul is meant to explain western proposals in detail before returning to Almaty to hear Iran’s response.
When asked whether Iran would shut down Fordow — Iran’s well protected second enrichment facility that has been established deep inside a mountain near Qom — Mr. Jalili said that the six global powers had not requested the closure of the site during the latest round of talks.
In case they have dropped closure of Fordow from their agenda list, the western powers would have significantly shifted the goal-posts of the dialogue to Iran’s advantage. During the previous two rounds of talks — first in Baghdad and then in Moscow last year — Iran’s interlocutors had insisted that Tehran must shut down the Fordow plant that was producing 20 per cent enriched uranium, and shift abroad, the accumulated stockpile of the material.
Fars News Agency quoting “several diplomatic sources” concluded that the six world powers have retreated from their previous stances "in an unprecedented manner".
Upbeat in his description of the meeting, Mr. Jalili said that in Almaty, the response of the global-six “to the proposals that Iran presented in Moscow was more realistic compared to what was said in the past”.
During the Moscow round of talks, Iran had asked the world powers to publicly recognise Tehran’s right to enrich uranium. In turn, Iran would reciprocate with a solemn commitment not to pursue “any kind of military nuclear projects as per the religious edict (fatwa) issued by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei”.
Iran had also proposed that the IAEA would be given a free hand to clear all doubts about the Possible Military Dimension (PMD) of the country’s atomic programme, which included access to the Parchin military complex. In return all “unilateral sanctions” imposed against Iran should be lifted in a phased manner. Finally, Iran would be ready to halt 20 per cent uranium enrichment, provided all sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council were scrapped.