The Tehran mood music is changing and even distinctly upbeat. New prospects for a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme emerged on Wednesday at the end of two days of talks in Almaty where the six powers involved offered to ease sanctions that have cut a full 8 per cent off its GDP if Iran accedes to new softer terms. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili says the six powers, the US, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany, had tried to “get closer to our viewpoint”.
One swallow does not a summer make, however, and bargaining has yet to begin in earnest. Iran’s looming June presidential election may also have something to do with its negotiators’ wish to put a good face on the talks. But the two sides agreed to resume expert talks in Istanbul this month, and to return to Almaty for political discussions in April, when western diplomats made clear they wanted to see a substantive response to their offers.
Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20-per cent-purity, a level higher than that required simply for nuclear power purposes, is currently over half way to a “red line” considered sufficient to produce a nuclear bomb. Diplomats say that an official from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has also briefed in Geneva in the last two days that Iran is technically ready to sharply and speedily increase this higher-grade enrichment.
The latest demand from the six is that Iran should significantly curtail, rather than rid itself entirely, of its stockpile of such uranium while being allowed to retain sufficient for its ostensible purpose of producing medical isotopes. The six dropped their demand that Iran shut down its key enrichment plant at Fordo, instead insisting that it suspend enrichment work there and put in place mechanisms to impede a rapid resumption of production. The new proposals are seen as offering a face-saving formula for Iranians but which also tackle the most worrying elements of its programme. It is to be hoped that we are seeing a light at the end of this 10-year diplomatic impasse.