ForexTV NewsDesk | February 27 2013 1:32 EST
ForexTV.com (New York) by Kaveh Eslampour
A two-day long conference between Iran and six world powers ended on Wednesday, and while there were no concrete agreements, the parties agreed to resume talks in March and April. The first meeting in eight months over Iran’s disputed nuclear program concluded with a proposal of softer demands from the six world powers in exchange for a modest lifting of sanctions.
The P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) agreed with Iran to conduct technical meetings on March 18 and 19 in Istanbul and to continue higher-level political talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan on April 5 and 6.
The proposal by the P5+1 demands that Iran suspend higher-grade uranium enrichment in the underground Fordo facility in return for a suspension of sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s gold and precious metal trade and eased banking restrictions.
The six powers dropped their demand that Iran shut down the Fordo facility resistant to airstrikes, buried deep in a mountain outside the holy city of Qom. The facility evoked suspicions when Western intelligence agencies discovered the undisclosed plant in August 2009 at a former Revolutionary Guard Corps Base.
The P5+1 also softened their position on enrichment outside of Fordo, demanding that Iran significantly restrict their production of 20 percent enriched uranium to exclusively provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor’s medical isotopes.
The priority for the six powers is to restrict Iran’s breakout capability. By limiting Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium - which can quickly be converted to bomb-grade material - and restricting the capabilities of shadowy Fordo facility with unspecified conditions to prevent future enrichment, the six powers would disarm the “most destabilizing and urgent elements of Iran’s nuclear program,” according to a senior American official’s evaluation to the New York Times. At the least, limiting advancements in Fordo and the accumulation of 20 percent enriched uranium will inspire confidence that the parties can reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement and buy time for such an agreement to be reached.
Head Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili told Al-Jazeera “What we witnessed during the past eight months, they studied and reviewed what we offered and tabled in Moscow.” The P5+1 proposal in Moscow was described as ‘stop, shut, ship’, meaning Iran must stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, shut down the Fordo facility completely, and ship out the stockpile for nuclear fuel. While those talks were unsuccessful, Jalili was optimistic and considered these proposals a “positive step.”
Mr. Jalili cited “failure” of economic sanctions as the reason behind a “more realistic” proposal “closer to the Iranian position.” In a departure from the normally aggressive rhetoric of the past, he appeared optimistic about future negotiations, calling the meetings a “turning point” in the bargaining process.
However, Western diplomats were less hopeful about the process, in part because Iran had not yet accepted the proposal or engaged in any bargaining. An American diplomat described the meetings to the New York Times as “useful”, but refused to call the meetings positive because they lacked “concrete results.” The official denied a “softening of our position,” but acknowledged the P5+1 offered additional sanctions suspensions “to gain traction for these talks.”
The international sanctions regime has hurt the vast majority of the Iranian population. Together with Tehran’s own economic mismanagement, the Iranian currency has lost over half of its value in the past year, while inflation continues to skyrocket. Iran has lost eight percent of its GDP, and as one Western official cautioned to the New York Times, “there is a cost to Iran and its people every day they don’t solve this problem, and the cost will go up.”
Many analysts and diplomats do not expect major breakthroughs in Almaty, due in part to heightened domestic political tensions in Iran in advance of the June 15th presidential election.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks on behalf of the six powers said she “hope[s] the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward. We have to see what happens next.”
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