Kerry and Ashton represent four of the six powers set to meet with Iranian officials. The six countries sitting down with Iran are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, Russia, China, and France – plus Germany. They’re hoping Iran will indicate at the initial meeting that it is ready to enter serious negotiations toward a deal to verifiably limit its advancing uranium-enrichment program.
Western nations say everything Iran is doing in its nuclear program – including enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which is well beyond the level required for civilian power generation – suggests the country is secretly preparing to reach nuclear-weapons capability. Iran insists its program is for purely peaceful purposes.
Tehran has sent out mixed signals concerning the purpose of the Kazakhstan meeting. European officials say it has moved in recent months to accept that the talks must address Iran’s enrichment program and a package of measures for limiting its stockpiling of enriched uranium.
Iran said this week that it has converted some of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel – a move that, if verified, could help reduce tensions since reactor fuel is not easily converted to weapons-grade fuel.
On the other hand, Iran has also suggested recently that it sees the talks as an opportunity to discuss regional issues, including Syria’s civil war and unrest among Shiite Muslims in Bahrain. On Tuesday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, was quoted by the Iranian news agency Mehr saying that Iran has proposed to Western countries that the Kazakhstan agenda include Syria and Bahrain.
In the past, talks that Western countries assumed would focus on Iran’s nuclear program have broken down after Iranian officials used them to air a list of grievances and to discuss every international issue but its nuclear program.
Ashton, who represented the six powers in communications with the Iranians on the goals of renewed talks, insisted on specifics from the Iranians concerning their readiness to discuss uranium enrichment and measures for limiting it, European officials say.