World powers and Iran have ended their two-day meeting on the country’s nuclear programme in the Kazakh city of Almaty without breakthrough, according to a Western official.
Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, said on Wednesday all sides agreed to meet in the same city on April 5-6 after first gathering their nuclear experts for consultations in Istanbul, Turkey, in March.
The six powers – France, Germany, the US, China Russia and Britain – offered at the talks to lift some sanctions if Iran scaled back nuclear activity that the West fears could be used to build a bomb.
Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, did not agree to do so and the sides did not appear any closer to an agreement to resolve a decade-old dispute that could lead to another war in the Middle East if diplomacy fails.
In his first remarks on the issue, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, called for “military sanctions” on the Islamic Republic.
“I believe it is incumbent upon the international community to intensify the sanctions and clarify that if Iran continues
its programme, there will be military sanctions,” he said on Wednesday.
“I don’t think there are any other means that will make Iran heed the international community’s demands.”
‘Closer to our viewpoint’
Iran said the talks in Almaty were a positive step in which the six powers tried to “get closer to our viewpoint”.
The proposals had been discussed in various forms at three previous meetings in the past year.
“What we witnessed during the past eight months, they studied and reviewed what we offered and tabled in Moscow,” Jalili told Al Jazeera.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator speaks to Al Jazeera
“While we listened, their response was more realistic to what we had before, and it was closer to the expectation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Therefore, to it’s own entity we considered it a positive step.”
Jalili said it was agreed to convene an expert level meeting in Istanbul on March 18, which would be followed by the 5+1 meeting with Iran on April 5-6 in Almaty.
The talks have brought together Iran and five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as Germany – known as P5+1.
The first day of gruelling negotiations in a luxury Almaty hotel concluded on Tuesday.
Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief who led the talks on behalf of the six powers, said: “I hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward.”
“We have to see what happens next.”
Production plant ‘activated’
As the talks were under way in Almaty, Iran reportedly activated a heavy water production plant in Arak.
Heavy water is needed to operate a nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium, which could then be used to make a bomb.
On the table is an offer for the five Security Council members and Germany to ease sanctions on Iran’s gold and precious metals trade while simultaneously lifting some restrictions on the Islamic republic’s banking operations.
The measures are meant to introduce goodwill in Tehran while encouraging it to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent – a level seen as being within striking distance of military capabilities.
The powers also want Iran to shut the Fordo plant where such high-grade material is produced and to ship out the existing stock it does not need for established medical purposes.
Iran counters that its rights to enrich uranium – entrusted to every nation but stripped from Iran due to its failure to co-operate with nuclear inspectors – must be respected before negotiations can proceed any further.
Tehran has also stipulated that it would only consider giving up enrichment to 20 per cent if all forms of sanctions against it were lifted – a condition Washington rejects.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, countered on a visit to Berlin on Tuesday that he hoped “Iran itself will make its choice to move down the path of a diplomatic solution”.