World powers are taking a "more realistic" approach to the Iranian nuclear standoff, Tehran's chief negotiator proclaimed yesterday as two days of talks in Kazakhstan ended with a modest agreement to soon meet again.
Describing the talks as a "positive step", Saeed Jalili said the six powers - the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - had tried to "get closer to our viewpoint".
Iran's upbeat assessment could signal a readiness to make nuclear concessions - provided it is seen to be doing so from a position of strength.
Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, was "very optimistic" about future talks. He hailed the meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty as a "turning point" and "milestone".
Mr Jalili suggested Iran was prepared to discuss its production of 20 per cent enriched uranium, which most concerns the West because it is within striking distance of making bomb-grade material.
The six world powers - dubbed the P5+1 - offered to ease some sanctions if Iran halted 20 per cent enrichment. But in a reportedly revised proposal they dropped a demand for now that Iran shutter the underground bunker at Fordo where most of that enrichment takes place.
"I hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward," said Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief. Her cautious tone contrasted markedly with the response from Tehran, as did an sober assessment by a US official in almaty.
"I would say it was a useful meeting," he said. "The day we have concrete results I will use a different adjective."
US officials said the proposal to Tehran did not offer to suspend major oil or financial sanctions that are choking Iran's economy. But the P5+1 offered Iran sanctions relief on gold and other precious metals that would allow it to sidestep some banking restrictions.
The two sides agreed to meet again in Almaty on April 5 and 6 after first gathering their nuclear experts from consultations in Istanbul on March 18.
No one had expected a major breakthrough in Kazakhstan that would end the decade-old dispute. So the agreement to meet again will be considered a moderate success that could inject momentum into the negotiations, preparing the ground for possibly more rapid progress after Iranian presidential elections this summer.
The last high-level talks in Moscow eight months ago ended without even an agreement to meet again at a senior political level.
The West will want early evidence that Iran is genuinely prepared to address concerns about its nuclear activities and is not filibustering.
In turn Iran, which insists its atomic programme has purely peaceful purposes, will want assurances that the US is not after regime change and is prepared to gradually lift all sanctions.
Iran's Fars news agency, affiliated with the powerful Revolutionary Guards, gave the talks a positive spin. It cited diplomatic sources in Almaty claiming the P5+1 had retreated from their previous stance "in an unprecedented manner".
But, reflecting divisions in Tehran, other Iranian media outlets were downbeat, saying the P5+1 had offered nothing more than they did in Moscow.
Any sign of progress that could lead to an easing of sanctions while guaranteeing Iran's nuclear rights will be welcomed by the Iranian public that is struggling with a currency nosediving in value, soaring inflation and rising unemployment.