Ten years after the start of talks over Iran’s nuclear programs, expectations are low that a round of talks that has begun in Kazakhstan will produce a breakthrough.
Representatives of the six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany — are meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiators in Almaty.
The full day of talks on February 26 is the first since they met unsuccessfully in June in Moscow.
At that meeting, they agreed only there was a “large gap” between their positions.
Many analysts expect this meeting to result in little more.
“I haven’t seen any sign that they have been able to modify their position sufficiently to attract Iran into an international negotiation, and I haven’t seen any clear signals from Iran that they are prepared to send a message to the six countries that it is possible to negotiate with Iran,” former British ambassador to Tehran Richard Dalton told RFE/RL last week.
“We have seen nothing but maximum demands made by both sides. So I am not optimistic about the outcome of the talks in Almaty. I think there won’t be a breakdown, but I don’t think there will be a breakthrough either.”
In Almaty, the world powers are expected to offer Iran new incentives to give up uranium enrichment.
The French Foreign Ministry said last week that a “substantial” new offer would be made. Media reports speculate that could be to ease sanctions on Iranian trade in gold and other precious metals if Iran closes a major uranium-enrichment plant.
If the world powers make such an offer, the logic would be that Western sanctions — particularly those targeting its oil revenues — have inflicted so much pain that Tehran is ready to make concessions.
Iran’s oil minister acknowledged for the first time last month that petroleum exports and sales had fallen by at least 40 percent over the past year. Meanwhile, the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has plummeted against major world currencies.
But if Iran is in a weakened economic position, it is far from admitting so. Before coming to Almaty, its chief negotiator, Said Jalili, told Iranian media that the country would “defend its rights.” Tehran has repeatedly said it has the right to pursue uranium enrichment and demands an end to sanctions.
“I think they expect to have their quote, unquote ‘right to enrich uranium’ acknowledged, understanding that it would have to be limited and subjected to all kinds of verification measures,” Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who focuses on Iran, said of Tehran’s possible goals.
“I think that they want to see sanctions lifted, obviously, all the nuclear-related sanctions lifted, and Iran not treated as a pariah state but as an important regional power. I mean, that is the goal Iran has in mind. Will they get there? I don’t know. These are very hard things for the United States and its negotiating partners to swallow right now.”
Despite the gulf between their positions, both sides say they want the diplomatic track to continue.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in London on February 25 that “the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever,” adding, “But it is open today. It is open now.”
Iran’s Jalili said in Almaty on February 25 that he hoped the talks would be a success.