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Iran, World Powers Exchange Offers in Kazakhstan

World powers and Iran exchange offers at "useful" talks in Kazakhstan over Tehran's disputed nuclear drive.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 2/27/2013, 5:15 AM

Members of the Iranian delegation to the nuclear talks with the P5+1
Members of the Iranian delegation to the nuclear talks with the P5+1
Reuters

World powers and Iran on Tuesday exchanged offers at what was described as "useful" talks in Kazakhstan aimed at breaking the deadlock over Tehran's disputed nuclear drive, AFP reports.

There was no hint of an initial breakthrough with the first round of closed-door meetings stretching late into Tuesday evening as the parties agreed to resume the talks on Wednesday.

"We had a useful meeting today. Discussions took place this evening, (and) we are meeting again tomorrow," said a Western official, according to AFP.

"We hope very much that the Iranian side comes back (on Wednesday) showing flexibility and a willingness to negotiate," added Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

"The ball is very much in their court," Mann stressed.

A Western source told AFP the world powers are offering Iran permission to resume its gold and precious metals trade as well as some international banking activity which are currently under sanctions.

Iran, in exchange, will have to limit sensitive uranium enrichment operations that the world powers fear could be used to make a nuclear bomb.

"We have come here with a revised offer and we have come to engage with Iran in a meaningful way," Ashton said on behalf of the world powers at the start of the negotiations.

Iran would have to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and shut down its controversial Fordow plant where such activity occurs.

An Iranian source told AFP that Tehran had come up with a counter-offer whose final nature would be determined by terms posed by the big powers.

The source stressed "there was no question" of Tehran closing the Fordow plant where uranium is enriched to up to 20 percent -- a level seen as being within technical reach of weapons-grade matter.

He added, however, that Iran could envisage halting the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent if all international sanctions against it were dropped.

The talks pit the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany against the Iranian team of top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

The talks are the first such encounter since a meeting in Moscow in June 2012 and Iranian officials have doused expectations by insisting they will offer no special concessions.

"It's clear that no one expects everyone to walk out of here in Almaty with a done deal. This is a negotiating process," Mann said.

Iran denies it is developing nuclear weapons and wants the world to respect its "right" to enrich uranium, something current UN sanctions say it cannot do because of its refusal to cooperate with nuclear inspectors.

A report released last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that Iran has begun installing next-generation equipment at one of its main nuclear plants in Natanz.

Iran has claimed that the report is proof that its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Tuesday there was a "diplomatic path" to be forged with Iran on its disputed nuclear program.

"There is a diplomatic path," said Kerry after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle in Berlin. He expressed his "hope" that "Iran itself will make its choice to move down the path of a diplomatic solution."

An Iranian lawmaker rejected on Sunday the idea of partial lifting of the sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Speaking to the Iranian Al-Alam TV network, the Chairman for the Committee of Foreign Policy and National Security of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly, Alaeddin Boroujerdi said that the West should not expect Iran to alter its nuclear program as long as there are still sanctions against the country.

“This is not logical at all,” he said, adding that all sanctions against Iran must be removed if the Islamic Republic is to suspend its nuclear energy program uranium enrichment.