Iranian Media Downplay Hopes of Breakthrough in Nuclear Talks

February 27, 2013 - 4:27 AM

Iran nukes

European Union foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton and Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, pose ahead of the talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 (AP Photo/Stanislav Filippov)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. and other world powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear activities were awaiting Tehran’s response Wednesday to an “updated” offer – reportedly involving an easing of sanctions in return for the shutdown of one uranium-enrichment facility – but regime-friendly media were unenthusiastic.

The semi-official Fars news agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, quoted an “informed close to the Iranian team of negotiators” as saying it was “not true” that the delegation would consider the proposal presented by the so-called P5+1 at talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Fars cited another “source” as saying the proposal by the P5+1 – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – would not be acceptable to Iran, while the state-funded Press TV said Iran did not consider the reported offer to be a “balanced proposal.”

Exactly what that offer is remains unconfirmed, but unnamed Western officials cited in news reports said Iran would be allowed to resume trading in gold and other precious metals and have some banking restrictions loosened in return for ending its enrichment of 20-percent uranium and closing the underground Fordow facility near the Shi’ite holy city of Qom where the work is taking place.

(Uranium enrichment to 3.5 percent is the grade required to fuel a power plant, but Iran has since 2010 also been enriching to 19.75 percent, the upper limit of what is considered “low-enriched” uranium. Experts say upper levels of enrichment require less work than lower ones, so an advance from 19.75-percent to weapons-grade – 90-plus percent – would not be as steep as it sounds.)

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell declined to elaborate on the offer beyond describing it as “a serious, updated proposal.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Berlin on Tuesday, would only say that the offer “includes reciprocal measures that encourage Iran to make concrete steps in order to begin addressing international community’s concerns.”

European Union foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton is chairing the talks in Kazakhstan, the seventh round held between the six parties and Iran since June 2008. (Earlier ones took place in Geneva, Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow).

Iran has rejected a string of P5+1 proposals since mid-2006. It dismisses Western suspicions that its nuclear program has military goals, saying that it is intended for purely peaceful energy-generation and research purposes.

When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported last November that Iran had by that point produced 7,611 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU), the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security observed that that quantity of LEU, “if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make, in theory, six or seven nuclear weapons.”

Last week, the IAEA in a new report said Iran’s LEU stocks now total 8,271 kilograms. That amount has risen from 839 kilograms in November 2008, two months before President Obama took office.