Talks on Iran's Nuclear Program to Move Into Second Day

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Talks between Iran and six world powers over its nuclear program will go into a second day here, with Western diplomats waiting to get a clear response from Tehran to an offer of step-by-step sanctions relief in return for confidence-building measures from Iran, Western diplomats said on Tuesday.

The six powers want Iran, as a first step, to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and to export its stockpile of that more highly enriched uranium, which is more quickly turned into bomb-grade material. The six also want Iran to shut down its Fordo enrichment facility, built deep into a mountain, which Iran has steadily refused to do. In return, the six -- the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany -- have offered Iran some further sanctions relief, reportedly including permission to resume its gold and precious metals trade as well as some international banking activity and petroleum trade.

The ultimate goal of talks with Iran is to get the country to come into compliance with Security Council resolutions demanding that it stop enrichment all together until it can satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has no weapons program and no hidden enrichment sites. In return, all sanctions -- which have so far cost Iran 8 percent of its gross domestic product, sharply increased inflation and collapsed the value of the Iranian currency, the rial -- would be lifted.

No one expects that kind of breakthrough in this round, especially with Iranian presidential elections coming in June and any major concession likely to be perceived as weakness. But the hope is for an incremental movement toward Iranian compliance in return for a modest lifting of sanctions.

Tuesday night around 10 p.m. a senior Western official said, "We had a useful meeting today, discussions took place this evening, we are meeting again tomorrow." Another official said that the Wednesday meeting would begin at 11 a.m.

Senior Western diplomats have said that this meeting would be a low-level success if it produces a specific agreement to meet again soon, or to meet more often at the technical level, so that there is an element of momentum to the negotiations. The talks have been intermittent since beginning in October 2009, with the last one eight months ago in Moscow.

The six nations talking with Iran have remained united and share an impatience over what they perceive to be its delaying tactics. The Russian envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who has been most opposed to increasing sanctions, said that time was running out for the talks. He told the Interfax news agency that easing sanctions would be possible only if Iran could assure the world that its nuclear program was for exclusively peaceful purposes.

"There is no certainty that the Iranian nuclear program lacks a military dimension, although there is also no evidence that there is a military dimension," he said.

He said Moscow hoped the talks would now move into a phase of "bargaining," rather than just offering proposals. "There needs to be a political will to move into that phase," Mr. Ryabkov said. "We call on all participants not to lose any more time."

Tuesday's talks began at 1:30 p.m. with a plenary session that lasted about 2 hours, 30 minutes, largely taken up with the six laying out their latest modified proposal to the Iranians. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is the chairwoman and speaks for the six. There was also discussion of the proposal by the Iranians and some questions asked, the diplomats said.

The rest of the afternoon and evening were taken up with waiting for an Iranian response, a senior European diplomat said. "Optimistic people are saying that there is modest progress, but realistic people like myself want to wait and see what the Iranians will come back with tomorrow, which can often be a surprise."

There were a few brief bilateral meetings with the Iranian delegation by the Russians, British and Germans, diplomats said, but not with the French or the Americans. The one and only bilateral meeting between the Americans and the Iranians in the course of the talks was in October 2009 in Geneva, although the chief American negotiator now, Wendy R. Sherman, the under secretary for political affairs in the State Department, has repeatedly said that she is open to another such meeting.

"The onus is very much on the Iranians," said Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ms. Ashton. He said at Wednesday's plenary, "we hope to get a more detailed response" from the Iranians to the offer of the six.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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