Representatives of Iran and world powers gathered in Kazakhstan have ended a two-day meeting on Tehran's nuclear program on a cautiously optimistic note. The two sides agreed on February 27 to meet again in Almaty in April to hear Iran's response to a proposal put forward earlier in the day by the so-called E3+3 group of countries.
The negotiations in Almaty
The E3+3 group -- sometimes also called the P5+1 -- comprises Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States.
The meeting scheduled for April 5-6 in Almaty would be preceded by lower-level technical talks in Istanbul next month.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she hoped for a positive response to the offer.
"The E3+3 has [presented] a revised proposal which we believe is balanced and fair basis for constructive talks," Ashton said in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. "The offer addresses international concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program, but is also responsive to Iranian ideas."
Ashton declined to disclose details of the proposal before Iran has studied them.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had said earlier the proposal included the condition that Tehran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity -- a short step from weapons grade -- and close down its underground enrichment facility at Fordow.
A senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said some sanctions relief was offered in the plan but it did not include oil or financial sanctions -- the two areas where the measures hit Iran hardest.
Iran's chief negotiator, Said Jalili, said the talks were positive and the E3+3 proposals were "more realistic" than in the past.
Jalili added that Iran was open to discussing its production of uranium enriched at 20 percent but ruled out closing down its Fordow enrichment plant.
Ashton urged Iran to consider the offer carefully in order to build trust between the two sides.
"I hope that the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposals that we've put forward," Ashton said. "We work extremely hard in a very considered manner, collectively, on behalf of the United Nations Security Council that mandates us to do so in order to try and get some tangible results out of this process, and so the proposals we've put forward are designed to build some confidence and enable us to move forward."
Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking in Vienna, said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached.
Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapons capability and says it wants to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
The UN's nuclear watchdog has accused Iran of a covert nuclear weapons program, and the UN Security Council has passed four rounds of sanctions aimed at discouraging sensitive nuclear activities by Iran.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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