A grand bargain?
out of Iran; and allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of any of Iran's facilities suspected of being involved in nuclear weapons activities. In exchange, the major powers reportedly would offer some easing of the sanctions imposed against Tehran, so that it can, for example, purchase spare parts for its civilian aircraft.
Iran's position remains that: it does not seek nuclear weapons; it has the right, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium; and the talks with the six powers should cover not only the nuclear issue but also those issues raised by Iran.
For the past several months, Iran held back from resuming the talks because of the escalation of unilateral Western sanctions and the threat of a military attack espoused by Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and some American "hawks". It responded robustly to cyber attacks, drone surveillance and sabotage.
Last September, at the UN General Assembly, the Israeli prime minister stepped back from the threat of imminent attack, under heavy pressure from the Obama administration and dissension within Israel's security establishment.
Some of Iran's calibrated actions also helped to lower the political temperature, such as turning a part of its higher (20 per cent) enriched uranium into fuel rods (thus making this unsuitable for a nuclear weapon) and holding several rounds of exchanges with the IAEA on broader inspections (although not agreeing to such inspections prior to the Almaty talks). The major powers were encouraged by the choice of the venue for the talks. Kazakhstan is one of only three countries - the other two being Ukraine and South Africa - which have given up their nuclear weapons.
Although, as expected, the Almaty talks last month did not yield a dramatic breakthrough, the agreement to continue the process indicates mutual flexibility.
The Western media's assertion that Iran was compelled to return to the negotiating table by punitive sanctions was clearly false. In fact, Iran's position has been strengthened by recent developments: Russia's estrangement with the US; China's leadership transition and the US pivot to Asia; the visible differences between the US and Israel and the Pentagon's open aversion to military strikes against Iran.
Thus, in the negotiations, concessions are more likely to come from the West rather than Iran.
In his State of the Union address on Feb 11, US President Obama declared: "The leaders in Iran must recognise that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon." This was interpreted as expressing US determination to resort to all options, including the