ALMATY – Negotiators from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States gathered here on Feb. 26 for talks with Iran aimed at finding a solution to a protracted dispute over its nucler programme and the concerns the international community has about it. The talks, co-chaired by the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, concluded inconclusively on Feb. 26, as the parties are now set to meet again the following day, Wednesday, Feb. 27.
The heads of delegations met at Rixos, one of the biggest hotels of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. Only a limited number of journalists were allowed to attend and capture the moment of Catherine Ashton greeting Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
It was announced that members of the Chinese and Iranian delegations met at a bilateral session before the talks got under way. Other delegations also held consultations in various formats in the morning.
Earlier, the five permanent UN Security Council members have called on Iran to stop the uranium enrichment programme in exchange for easing of international sanctions. The Iranian side, according to the official sources, demonstrates little readiness to accept those calls.
Expectations here now are that talks will not result in any major solutions or decisions but participants themselves perceive the talks as a promising breakthrough in and of itself, taking in consideration that the last high level talks on Iran’s nuclear programme took place in Moscow in June 2012.
Since the very early morning around 200 foreign and local journalists were waiting for the news from the round-table where the talks were to take place but it was announced that the talks themselves would start only at 1.30 pm. And only at three pm Almaty time, Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived at the press center organized in the Intercontinental Hotel to address the audience and answer questions from journalists.
Talking to journalists, Mr Mann said negotiations were underway and there was no major information to be provided.
“High Representative [Ashton] together with EU/EU+3 are determined to work out a diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear issue. Iran needs to understand that there is urgent need to make a concrete and tangible progress in the talks and this meeting in Almaty is a genuine opportunity to engage in serious talks about the concrete confidence building step, which could pave the way for the negotiations leading towards the longer term comprehensive agreement,” he said.
“EU/EU + 3 have prepared a revised offer for the talks, which we believe is balanced and of fair basis for constructive negotiations. The offer addresses international concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme but it also responsive to Iranian ideas and we hope very much for Iran to see this opportunity and come to the talks with flexibility and a commitment to make concrete progress towards confidence building step,” Mann underlined.
Mann emphasized that the talks remained an important step towards a definitive solution.
“I don’t think the length of the negotiations is necessarily a measure of how successfully it has been. We will talk as long we need to talk,” he said.
The delegations of countries participants are headed by Zhao Xu, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of China; Jacques Audibert, Director-General for Political and Security Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France; Hans-Dieter Lucas, Office Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany; Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council; Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia; Simon Gass, Office Political Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, and Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, co-chairs the talks.
The choice of Kazakhstan as a host country was seen by the international media and experts as a symbolic acknowledgement of the state’s nuclear disarmament achievements and initiatives.
Back in 1991, even before the collapse of the USSR and Kazakhstan’s independence, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree on the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, which has become the first step in its path towards a nuclear weapons free future and made the state a global “role model” for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.
On the eve of the Almaty talks, President Nazarbayev met separately Catherine Ashton and Saeed Jalili on Feb. 25 to discuss bilateral and multilateral issues as well as the upcoming talks.
At a late night briefing on Feb. 26, Michael Mann told the exhausted reporters: “We had a useful meeting. Another plenary session of the talks to be held tomorrow at 11 am.”