P5+1 seeks ‘clear and concrete’ response from Iran in Almaty

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20130404-101537.jpgAlmaty, Kazakhstan__ Western diplomats said Thursday they hope Iran comes here with a “clear and concrete” response to a revised international proposal aimed at curbing Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work.

“What would be most helpful is for Iran to give us concrete responses, what they think they’re willing to do on this proposal, what gives them concerns, …[to] get into a real and substantive negotiation,” a senior US administration official told journalists in a conference late Wednesday ahead of boarding a flight to Kazakhstan. “I’m hopeful that they will do that.”

“We would of course like them to come and say, ‘We accept the proposal. Now let’s work out the details,'” the American official continued. “But that’s not usually the way these things work. … That’s why you’re in a negotiation to begin with.”

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton “calls upon Iran to give a clear and concrete answer to the E3/EU+3’s Almaty proposal,” Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ashton, said Thursday.

Diplomats from Iran and six world powers are gathering here ahead of the third set of nuclear talks in the past five weeks, which are due to get underway Friday. International negotiators presented a revised international proposal at high level talks held in Almaty in February, and then held technical talks in Istanbul last month.

The Iranian negotiating team is expected on Friday to present a response to the latest P5+1 proposal, that includes Iran’s suggested steps, an Iranian source suggested Thursday. Iran’s counter proposal will aim “to test” western intentions, he said.

“We think our talks tomorrow can go forward with one word,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said in a talk to Kazakh university students Wednesday. “That is the acceptance of the rights of Iran, particularly the right of enrichment.”

Striking a familiar theme, Jalili also criticized nuclear armed world powers that seek to limit other countries’ nuclear rights. “No country should have a nuclear weapon,” Jalili said.

Despite the tough tone, western diplomats said Iranian technical experts were particularly engaged and focused on substantive details at technical talks held in Istanbul March 18th that went on for twelve hours. The Iranian technical team was not authorized to negotiate, however, the American diplomat said, but rather to seek more information and clarification on the international proposal.

The Iranian team, in Istanbul, indicated Tehran was considering an international request to suspend 20% enrichment for six months, and to continue converting Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to oxide for medical use, a diplomatic source told Al-Monitor last month. However, the Iranian team expressed objections to other elements in the international proposal, the diplomat said. Among them: suspending other operations at the Fordo facility except 20% enrichment, shipping out its 20% stockpile, and increased IAEA inspections.

Iranian diplomats have also said that while they consider the revised international proposal an improvement from one presented in Baghdad last year, they still find it “imbalanced” between its demands and the incentives it offers.

The updated offer would ease sanctions on gold and precious metal transactions and petrochemical sales, but would not lift major European Union and American sanctions on the Iranian oil and banking sectors, diplomats have said. It also offers that the United Nations and EU would not impose new proliferation-related sanctions, as did the offer last year.

However, if Iran and the six powers are not able to move towards a constructive negotiations that gets results, they are likely to face further economic sanctions, western diplomats said.

“As long as Iran does not take concrete steps to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program, the dual-track process continues,” the US official said. “And that pressure only will increase if Iran does not begin to take concrete steps and concrete actions.”

“The bottom line is that we need to have them enter into a real negotiation on the substance of the proposal that we have put in front of them,” the US official said.

The US delegation, which arrives overnight Thursday-Friday, is led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and includes veteran US arms control negotiators Jim Timbie and Bob Einhorn, National Security Staff senior director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Mike Hammer, and State Department Iran expert Alan Eyre.

The Iran team, which arrived here Wednesday, is led by Jalili, who holds the title of Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. It includes his NSC deputy Ali Bagheri; deputy foreign minister for Asian affairs Abbas Araghchi; Iran legal/non-proliferation advisor Hamid-Reza Asgari, an Iranian intelligence officer who has been involved in Iran’s international arms control discussions for over a decade and who attended recent technical talks in Istanbul; and Iran’s former ambassador to the UK Rasoul Movahedian. [Update: Iran added Iranian ambassador to China Mehdi Safari to its negotiating team, Iran media reported Friday. Safari also previously served as ambassador to Russia and charge d’affaires in Germany.]

MJ Ramazani is acting as a briefer for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team at the ‘Almaty 2’ talks. Iranian journalists said he is a deputy in the NSC to Mahdi Mohammadi, a political advisor to Jalili and a former political editor for Iran’s hardline Kayhan newspaper, who did not travel to Almaty this time.

(Photo: Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili speaks during Iran nuclear talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 27, 2013. Reuters.)