Diplomats from six world powers met with Iranian representative in Kazakhstan today, for the first day of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. Both sides claim to have come to the meeting with new offers, and western diplomats have described the initial negotiations as “useful”. But in the background news has emerged that the United States of America is considering military action against Iran from June if the talks fail to produce results.
Kazakhstan Nuclear Negotiations
Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China – the so-called E3+3 – met with representatives of Iran for talks which will continue into a second day on Wednesday.
Western diplomats arrived in Kazakhstan with what they claim is a significant new proposal – to allow Iran to resume trade in gold and other metals, and to lift restrictions on some banking activities which have been hit by sanctions. In return they say Iran would have to halt uranium enrichment to 20% (which western leaders suspect to be part of a weapons fear could be used for nuclear weapons) and close down the Fordo plant where this activity is currently conducted.
Iran has also come to the table with a new offer – they are willing to consider halting the 20% enrichment, if all international sanctions are dropped. They have also said, however, that “there is no question” that they would consider closing the Fordow plant.
Although there is still a wide gulf between the two positions, and it is not at all clear what any middle ground could look like, this is the closest that the two sides have come to genuine compromise in a long time.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed her optimism that a positive outcome could be reached: “we see progress by the end of the meeting”. She also warned, however, that there would be no grand deal: “It’s clear that no one expects everyone to walk out of here in Almaty with a done deal. This is a negotiating process,” she said.
Windows of Opportunity
While negotiators in Kazakhstan warn that the window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution is running out, The Times of Israel has reported that President Obama intends to use a visit to Israel next month to tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that a window of opportunity for a military strike against Iran will open in June, if the current talks fail.
On Monday Israeli television reported that the USA will tell Israel that it should stay on the side-lines, keeping a low profile while the US attacks Iranian nuclear facilities.