0520 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China) will meet today in the Kazakh capital Almaty, their first high-level discussions since last June.
I do not expect any advance in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme. The Iranians have made it clear that they must have significant relief of sanctions in return for a move away from enrichment of 20% uranium. The US and the "European 3" of British, France, and Germany have pointed to no more than the removal of a ban on transfer of gold and precious metals to Iran, imposed less than three weeks ago.
My prediction was reinforced last night by the message fed to Laura Rozen of Al Monitor, who is in Kazakhstan, by unnamed Western officials:
Western diplomats said Monday they will put an updated proposal with some sanctions relief on the table when they meet with Iranian negotiators in Kazakhstan Tuesday for the first time in almost eight months.
They also stressed that they are hoping to get some momentum for a higher tempo of meetings with the Iranians in the coming months, possibly to be held at the technical experts level, in order to try to advance prospects for a deal (or assess Iran’s willingness to make a deal). Notably, diplomats signaled they would offer the Iranians a “clear pathway” to further sanctions relief and a civilian nuclear program, hinting at possible recognition of what Iran considers its right to enrich at the end of a step by step process.
“The real message is for Iran to appreciate there is a path forward for them to get the relief they are seeking and have a peaceful nuclear [energy] program,” a senior US official told journalists in Almaty Monday.
“What we will try to do here is put a modified proposal on the table, that both takes into account changes in Iran’s [nuclear] program, and is responsive to Iran’s desire for the P5+1 to recognize Iran’s needs,” the US diplomat said.
The modified international proposal is a “real, serious, and substantive” offer, the American official said. “We are trying to outline a pathway for sanctions relief. The President has been clear if Iran keeps all its obligations… under the NPT and IAEA….there is absolutely a pathway for it to have peaceful nuclear power.”
Despite Al Monitor and the anonymous sources bigging up the possibilities, a "pathway" is not a "real, serious, and substantive" change in the situation --- unless that pathway has a clear marker, such as the lifting of last July's European Union sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors.
Instead, the "real, serious, and substantive" message is the reference to "a higher tempo of meetings with the Iranians in the coming months". The officials held out the prospect of follow-up technical discussions before the Iranian New Year in late March.
In fact, the likelihood --- given Iran's imminent preoccupation with June's Presidential elections --- is that Kazakhstan is a "holding" meeting for another high-level discussion in the autumn.EA WorldView: EA Iran