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.
But if the measure of cooperation is how quickly Iran is amassing a stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, the answer is mixed. So far, Tehran has
converted much of its 20-percent uranium into uranium oxide for medical use. That keeps its stockpile under the amount it would need for making a first
Gary Samore, an Iran expert at Harvard University, recently told a forum at the Brookings Institution that Iran does seem to be trying to lower tensions in
the crisis. But it may be doing so more because of domestic concerns than international pressure:
"I do think the Iranians are exercising some constraints on their program for political reasons," he says. "[This is] mainly because, in my view, the
supreme leader is focusing right now on managing the presidential elections and does not want to have to deal with a foreign-policy crisis."
What happens after Almaty II?
Even if the second round in Almaty makes no progress, both sides will want to keep talking.
The U.S. and EU are likely to react to a disappointing outcome by looking for additional sanctions to increase pressure on Tehran. But the point of the
sanctions is to make Iran negotiate, so scheduling future talks is essential.