For an analysis of the Feb. 26-27 Almaty talks, click here.
Six world powers revised their proposal for negotiating with Iran over its controversial nuclear program ahead of a new round of talks, which were scheduled to resume in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Feb. 26 after an eight-month hiatus.
Negotiations between Iran and the six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), known as the P5+1 because the group comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, stalled in June after three rounds of talks in three months. At the time, negotiators from the two sides said they had addressed critical issues during the meetings but that gaps remained, preventing the scheduling of another round of talks. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Feb. 6 that the P5+1 would approach the talks at the next meeting with an “updated and credible offer for Iran.” A U.S. State Department official confirmed Feb. 7 that the proposal that the P5+1 brought to the negotiations for the 2012 meetings has been updated to “reflect developments that occurred since June” in Iran’s nuclear program, but did not provide details on the changes.
A Reuters news report on Feb. 15 quoted Western officials as saying that the United States might consider lifting sanctions that prevent countries from paying Iran for oil and other commodities with precious metals if Iran stops its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and closes the Fordow enrichment plant. At a press briefing that day, a White House spokesman declined comment on that issue.
It is unclear if Iran updated its proposal prior to the Almaty talks. On Feb. 4, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran was “ready to offer objective guarantees compatible with all legal standards and international conventions that Iran will never deviate from the peaceful purposes it is pursuing in its nuclear program.”
The talks come amid growing concern that the opportunity for negotiations may be limited because of internal Iranian politics preceding the country’s June presidential elections. In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the Iranians “must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations.”
The P5+1 proposal discussed during the 2012 talks required Iran to shut down the Fordow facility, halt the process of enriching uranium to 20 percent, and ship its stockpile of uranium that had already been enriched to 20 percent out of the country. The stockpile and continued production of 20 percent-enriched uranium are a primary concern for the P5+1 because uranium at this enrichment level can be turned into weapons-grade material more quickly than uranium prepared for power reactors. Iran maintains that it needs uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.
In return, under the 2012 proposal, Iran would receive fuel plates for that reactor, international assistance in nuclear safety and for construction of a light-water reactor, and spare parts for civilian aircraft.
Iranian officials rejected the proposal, saying that it did not address their principal concerns, namely, sanctions relief and recognition of the right that Iran claims it has under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to continue enriching uranium.
Since the June negotiations, Iran’s nuclear program has continued to make progress. The international community, concerned over the advances, has increased pressure on the regime by passing further sanctions.
On Feb. 6, a new U.S sanctions measure went into effect. It requires that non-Iranian banks facilitating payments for Iranian oil hold the funds and use them only for bilateral trade between Iran and the country in which the bank is located. If a non-Iranian bank allows the payments to go to an Iranian bank or transfers them to another country, it could face U.S. sanctions.
The U.S. measure also tightened controls against payment to Iran in precious metals. That measure particularly had an impact on Turkish trade with Tehran, as Ankara had been paying for imports from Iran with precious metals such as gold.
Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium also has increased, although Tehran apparently does not have enough to make a nuclear weapon. Iran has a known stockpile of about 167 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Experts estimate that, with further enrichment, about 250 kilograms would be sufficient to make a bomb.
Additionally, Iran announced that it would begin installing its next-generation centrifuges at its Natanz uranium-enrichment plant on Jan. 23, a development that could dramatically increase Iran’s ability to produce enriched uranium once those centrifuges are operational. (See "Iran Installs Advanced Centrifuges.")