What's on the Table at the Almaty Nuclear Talks?

Tehran demands the total lifting of sanctions in exchange for suspending 20-percent enrichment. How much further either side is willing to go will be the drama in Kazakhstan.
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Participants from the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany prepare to start talks with Iranian negotiators in Almaty on April 5, 2013. (Reuters)

Iran and the world powers are meeting in Almaty on April 5 and 6 to once more seek a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. Here are five things to know about the talks.

Could there be a breakthrough?

Not likely, given the distance in the negotiating positions between the two sides. But there is hope that Iran and the world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- could narrow their differences. That's because both sides reacted positively to their last meeting in Almaty in February -- the first time they had talked after an 8-month breakdown in negotiations.

In the first round of Almaty talks, the world powers asked Iran to suspend enriching uranium to 20-percent levels at its underground Fordo facility. They also wanted Tehran to ship most of its 20-percent stockpile out of the country and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency full access to suspected nuclear sites. In exchange, they offered to permit countries that still import Iranian oil and gas to pay in gold, despite leaving other sanctions on Iran's energy exports and banking sector in place.

Iran called the offer a sign that the world powers "have moved closer to our proposal." Tehran demands the total lifting of sanctions in exchange for suspending 20-percent enrichment.

How much further either side is now ready to go will be the drama at Almaty II.

Is the world powers' position softening?

Some analysts say so, because the key demand in the global power's latest offer was for Iran to "suspend" its 20-percent enrichment of uranium. Previously, the demand had been to "stop" all 20-percent enrichment. The 20-percent level is considered a short hop technically from the 90-percent enrichment level needed for nuclear-weapons material.

But Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Bonn, suggests that the move to "suspension" is not a sign of a weakening position so much as a more pragmatic one.

"Suspension of enrichment instead of a full stop on it would be in line with UN Security Council resolutions," he says. "Therefore, it would be easier for all six parties who are negotiating with Iran to accept that. Beyond that, any demand to stop enrichment would be more difficult for Iran because they are facing a [June presidential] election where parties are going to be arguing that there should be no compromise with the Western group."

Hibbs notes that the ultimate interpretation of what "suspension" means, and whether it would be temporary or permanent, would still have to be determined in any final negotiations aimed at ending the nuclear crisis.

Is Iran growing more cooperative?

If the measure of cooperation is how fast Iran is increasing its capacity to produce 20-percent uranium, the answer is "no." Over the past year, Iran has steadily added new centrifuges at its heavily fortified Fordo site in defiance of international calls to not do so.

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