THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Thursday 28 February 2013
Last update 28 February 2013 5:43 am
ALMATY, Kazakhstan: Negotiations with world powers over how to curb Iran’s nuclear program have reached a “turning point” for the better after nearly breaking down last year, the Islamic republic’s top official at diplomatic talks said yesterday.
While still guardedly optimistic, the comments by Saeed Jalili, the secretary for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, marked a significant step forward.
The Obama administration is pushing for diplomacy to end the deadlock but has not ruled out the possibility of military intervention in Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Jalili said a new offer this week by the world powers to compromise is more realistic than what has been offered in the past. He described the new offer — including some relief from international sanctions — as a step to build confidence between the two sides after similar negotiations in Moscow were nearly derailed last June.
“In this round of talks we have witnessed that despite all the attitudes during the last eight months, they tried to get closer to our viewpoints,” Jalili told reporters at the close of two days of talks in Kazakhstan’s largest city. “We believe this is a turning point.”
Jalili did not detail what the sanctions relief might include, or what Iran was willing to do to in exchange.
But he would not budge on Iran’s longtime instance, and a main sticking point in the talks, that it has the right to enrich uranium to 20 percent — a point that is just steps away from being able to be converted into nuclear warheads.
“Whatever we need, we will of course pursue that — whether it is 5 percent or 20 percent,” Jalili said. “It is important to us to have the 20 percent.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the negotiations, refused to discuss what the potential deal included.
“I hope the Iranians are looking positively on the proposals we put forward,” Ashton said. “I believe in looking at what the results are.”
“We’ll have to see what happens next,” Ashton said. “But we approach this with the absolutely united view that we need to see the progress necessary for the confidence the international community needs.”
Technical experts for each side will meet in Istanbul in mid-March to discuss the world powers’ offer and the high-level diplomats will re-convene again April 5 in Almaty.