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Expectations Low As World Powers, Iran Meet In Kazakhstan


EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Said Jalili at the Iran talks in Almaty.
Ten years after the start of talks over Iran’s nuclear programs, expectations are low that a round of talks that has begun in Kazakhstan will produce a breakthrough.

Representatives of the six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- are meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiators in Almaty.

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the world powers did not expect a breakthrough agreement in Almaty. Ashton oversees contacts with Iran on behalf of the six powers.

At a press conference shortly after the talks began on February 26, Michael Mann did, however, stress that the meeting could be a step toward an eventual solution to end the deadlock over Tehran's nuclear program.

Mann said Ashton "remains determined to work towards a diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear issue. Iran needs to understand that there is an urgent need to make concrete and tangible progress in the talks, and this meeting in Almaty is a genuine opportunity to engage in serious talks about a concrete confidence-building step which could pave the way for negotiations leading towards a longer-term comprehensive agreement."

FOLLOW the second day of talks

Mann described the first day of talks as "useful."

"The E3+3 presented its proposal at 1:30 in the plenary and this was discussed," Mann said. "There was a discussion lasting about 2 1/2 hours and then the Iranians went away to consider our proposal. There were further discussions during the course of the afternoon and the evening and there will be another plenary tomorrow, at which we hope will get some more detailed feedback on our proposal."

The full day of talks on February 26 is the first since they met unsuccessfully in June in Moscow. At that meeting they agreed only there was a "large gap" between their positions.

Many analysts expect this meeting to result in little more.

"I haven't seen any sign that they have been able to modify their position sufficiently to attract Iran into an international negotiation, and I haven't seen any clear signals from Iran that they are prepared to send a message to the six countries that it is possible to negotiate with Iran," former British ambassador to Tehran Richard Dalton told RFE/RL last week.

"We have seen nothing but maximum demands made by both sides. So I am not optimistic about the outcome of the talks in Almaty. I think there won't be a breakdown, but I don't think there will be a breakthrough either."

New Sweeteners?

In Almaty, the world powers are expected to offer Iran new incentives to give up uranium enrichment.

EU spokesman Mann would not reveal details of the offer but said world powers hoped it would allow Iran to show "some flexibility."

"We believe our new offer, our new proposal, does address the international concerns about the Iranian [nuclear] program, but it also responds to the ideas that Iran put forward," Mann said.

ALSO READ: Tehran's New Centrifuges -- Game Over?

The French Foreign Ministry said last week that a "substantial" new offer would be made. Media reports speculate that could be to ease sanctions on Iranian trade in gold and other precious metals if Iran closes a major uranium-enrichment plant.

WATCH: On the eve of the talks, a small group of activists gathered by a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Almaty to join in a collective prayer for world peace. The meeting was led by Dzyunsey Terasava, a traveling Buddhist monk and peace activist from Japan, which experienced a civilian nuclear disaster two years ago. (By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service)
A Prayer For Peace As Iran Nuclear Talks Begin
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If the world powers make such an offer, the logic would be that Western sanctions -- particularly those targeting its oil revenues -- have inflicted so much pain that Tehran is ready to make concessions.

Iran’s oil minister acknowledged for the first time last month that petroleum exports and sales had fallen by at least 40 percent over the past year. Meanwhile, the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has plummeted against major world currencies.

Bargaining Positions

But if Iran is in a weakened economic position, it is far from admitting so. Before coming to Almaty its chief negotiator, Said Jalili, told Iranian media that the country would "defend its rights." Tehran has repeatedly said it has the right to pursue uranium enrichment and demands an end to sanctions.

"I think they expect to have their quote, unquote 'right to enrich uranium' acknowledged, understanding that it would have to be limited and subjected to all kinds of verification measures," Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who focuses on Iran, said of Tehran's possible goals.

"I think that they want to see sanctions lifted, obviously, all the nuclear-related sanctions lifted, and Iran not treated as a pariah state but as an important regional power. I mean, that is the goal Iran has in mind. Will they get there? I don't know. These are very hard things for the United States and its negotiating partners to swallow right now.”

Despite the gulf between their positions, both sides say they want the diplomatic track to continue.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in London on February 25 that "the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever," adding, "But it is open today. It is open now."

Jalili said in Almaty on February 25 that he hoped the talks would be a success.

With additional reporting by Hannah Kaviani of RFE/RL's Radio Farda and Reuters
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