June 19, 2013
Iran and big powers hint at nuclear talks concessions
Iran said it was prepared to make an offer to major powers in talks on its nuclear program in Kazakhstan, after the United States proposed limited sanctions relief in return for a halt to the most controversial work.
The first meeting in eight months between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany - the "P5+1" - aims to resolve a dispute that threatens to trigger another war in the Middle East.
Iran has used the last eight months to expand activity that the West suspects is aimed at enabling it to build a nuclear bomb, something that Israel has suggested it will prevent by force if diplomacy fails.
The negotiations in the city of Almaty - which follow inconclusive meetings last year in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow - were expected to run through Tuesday and Wednesday.
But with the Islamic Republic's political elite preoccupied with worsening infighting before a presidential election in June, few believe the meeting will yield a quick breakthrough.
"It is clear that nobody expects to come from Almaty with a fully done deal," a spokesman for the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees contacts with Iran on behalf of world powers, said shortly after talks started.
A U.S. official said on Monday that the powers' updated offer to Iran - a modified version of one rejected by Iran last year - would take into account its recent nuclear advances, but also take "some steps in the sanctions arena".
This would address some of Iran's concerns but not meet its demand that all sanctions be lifted, the official said.
In Almaty, a source close to the Iranian negotiating team said on Tuesday that Iran would put up a counterproposal.
"Depending on what proposal we receive from the other side we will present our own proposal of the same weight," the source told reporters. "The continuation of talks depends on how this exchange of proposals goes forward."