Iran announces ‘comprehensive’ offer in resumed nuke talks


Iran said it has made a “comprehensive proposal” to “establish a new bedrock for cooperation” in resumed talks about the Iranian nuclear program between Tehran and six world powers.

The announcement by Ali Baqeri, deputy head of the Iranian delegation, came after the opening session in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Friday of talks.

Baqeri, who spoke as Iranian officials took a break for lunch and prayers, did not offer any details, the New York Times reported.

He suggested that Iran had more than met demands from American and European officials that his country offer a concrete show of willingness to address international concerns about its nuclear program.

“These steps are referred to as confidence-building measures, but they are part of a comprehensive set of measures,” he said at a news conference at a central Almaty hotel.

At the last round of talks in February, the international negotiators — the United States, Britain, France, German, Russia and China – offered a modest easing of international sanctions if Iran takes steps to limit its own supply of dangerous enriched uranium. That proposal would require Iran to shut its enrichment plant at Fordow.

While Iran says its nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes, American, Israeli, European and other western officials suspect that Tehran is seeking the technology for nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu urges ‘military sanctions’ threat against Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community on Wednesday to threaten Iran with “military sanctions,” saying economic measures are failing to curb Tehran's nuclear drive.

“I believe it is incumbent upon the international community to intensify the sanctions and clarify that if Iran continues its program, there will be military sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

He did not, in a statement released by the prime minister's office, specify what military measures he envisages.

“I don't think there are any other means that will make Iran heed the international community's demands,” he said, in his first remarks on the issue after two days of nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

Netanyahu has long said that only a credible military threat, coupled with tough economic sanctions, could dissuade Iran from acquiring what Israel and the West believe is a capability to build atomic weapons.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes only.

In Almaty, the first negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months ended without a breakthrough on Wednesday. They agreed to meet again at expert level in Istanbul next month and resume political talks in Kazakhstan on April 5.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has strongly hinted it might attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to halt its nuclear program.

Netanyahu, setting a “red line” at the United Nations last September, has said Iran could by the middle of this year reach the point where it has enriched enough uranium to move quickly toward building an atomic bomb.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ori Lewis

Powers to offer Iran sanctions relief at nuclear talks


Major powers will offer Iran some sanctions relief during talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week if Tehran agrees to curb its nuclear program, a U.S. official said on Monday.

But the Islamic Republic could face more economic pain if it fails to address international concerns about its atomic activities, the official said ahead of the February 26-27 meeting in the central Asian state, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There will be continued sanctions enforcement … there are other areas where pressure can be put,” the official said, on the eve of the first round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months.

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads the talks with Iran on behalf of the powers, said Tehran should understand that there was an “urgent need to make concrete and tangible progress” in Kazakhstan.

Both Russia and the United States stressed there was not an unlimited amount of time to resolve a dispute that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East.

“The window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever. But it is open today. It is open now,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in London.

“There is still time but there is only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and negotiate in good faith,” he added in a news conference in London. “We are prepared to negotiate in good faith, in mutual respect, in an effort to avoid whatever terrible consequences could follow failure.”

It was not clear what he meant by “terrible consequences.” Top U.S. officials have repeatedly said the United States will not take any options off the table, code for the possibility of a military strike. They also fear Iran's getting a nuclear weapon could set off an arms race across the Middle East.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was “no more time to waste,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in Almaty.

The immediate priority for the powers – the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France – is to convince Iran to halt its higher-grade enrichment, which is a relatively short technical step away from potential atom bomb material.

Iran, which has taken steps over the last year to expand its uranium enrichment activities in defiance of international demands to scale it back, wants a relaxation of increasingly harsh sanctions hurting its lifeline oil exports.

Western officials say the Almaty meeting is unlikely to produce any major breakthrough, in part because Iran's presidential election in June may make it difficult for it to make significant concessions before then for domestic reasons.

But they say they hope that Iran will take their proposals seriously and engage in negotiations to try to find a diplomatic settlement.

“No one is expecting to walk out of here with a deal but … confidence building measures are important,” one senior Western official said.

The stakes are high: Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed arsenal, has strongly hinted at possible military action to prevent its old foe from obtaining such arms. Iran has threatened to retaliate if attacked.

GOLD SANCTIONS RELIEF?

The U.S. official said the powers' updated offer to Iran – a modified version of one rejected by Iran in the unsuccessful talks last year – would take into account its recent nuclear advances, but also take “some steps in the sanctions arena”.

This would be aimed at addressing some of Iran's concerns, the official said, while making clear it would not meet Tehran's demand of an easing of all punitive steps against it.

“We think … there will be some additional sanctions relief” in the powers' revised proposal,” the official said, without giving details.

Western diplomats have told Reuters the six countries will offer to ease sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals if Iran closes its Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant.

Iran has indicated, however, that this will not be enough.

Tehran denies Western allegations it is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs, saying its program is entirely peaceful. It wants the powers to recognize what it sees as its right to refine uranium for peaceful purposes.

The U.S. official said the powers hoped that the Almaty meeting would lead to follow-up talks soon.

“We are ready to step up the pace of our meetings and our discussions,” the official said, adding the United States would also be prepared to hold bilateral talks with Tehran if it was serious about it.

Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, said the updated offer to Iran was “balanced and a fair basis” for constructive talks.

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Dimitry Solovyov and by Arshad Mohammed and Mohammed Abbas in London; Editing by Jon Hemming