Two days of negotiations between global powers and Iran have ended with little to show for. But more discussions on Tehran’s nuclear program have been scheduled in a show of confidence building.
Emerging from two days of talks in Kazakhstan, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed cautious optimism.
"I hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward," Ashton said.
Diplomats from the so-called "P5+1" group of nations reportedly offered Tehran limited sanctions relief - such as the resumption of metal and gold trading and some international banking activity in return for Iranian agreement to curb its uranium enrichment program, which Security Council members believe is intended to create nuclear weapons.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
"We have to see what happens next," Ashton said in Almaty, announcing a resumption of talks in March and then at a higher level in April.
The P5+1 group's permanent UN Security Council members are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.
"Some of the points raised in their [the world powers'] response were more realistic comparing to what they said in the past," Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili told reporters after the end of negotiations on Wednesday.
He explained that all sides agreed to meet in the same city on April 5-6 after first gathering their nuclear experts for consultations in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 17-18.
Jalili said he viewed the overall tenor of the meeting as "positive" and a step towards confidence building.
He said that Iran was willing to discuss its enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which experts say is a relatively short technical step away from weapons-grade material.
But he appeared to rule out closing the underground Fordow enrichment plant. The P5+1 group had demanded Iran take such a first step, but Tehran's negotiators maintained that the material produced there was needed for medical research purposes and was therefore entitled to continue the production.
Iran had previously suggested that enrichment was up for negotiations if it received the fuel from abroad instead.
Iran has indicated its interest to have international sanctions relieved. Its economy has suffered since santions were toughened three years ago, reducing its oil and other exports. The currency has lost in value and pushed up inflation in the country to 27 percent, according to a US government report for 2012.
The latest meeting followed a series of inconclusive negotiations last year in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow.
rg/kms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)