March 21, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 951

Tehran Celebrates Its Victory At February 2013 Nuclear Talks In Kazakhstan

March 21, 2013 | By A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 951


An additional round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 held February 26-27, 2013 in Almaty, Kazakhstan concluded with a decision for follow-up talks between the sides in March and April.[1] An Iranian diplomat close to the Almaty talks stated that the P5+1's proposal to Iran included the following: Tehran would no longer be required to close its subterranean enrichment facility at Fordo; Iran would be permitted to enrich uranium at a level of 20% solely for the operation of the Tehran reactor; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would verify that the enriched uranium was being converted into fuel rods and that the rest of the enriched uranium would be transferred to a third country for six months; and that the building of centrifuges and other manufacturing components would be under stricter oversight than agreed on in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If Iran meets all these demands during the next six months, steps will be taken to remove the sanctions on it.[2]

Two trends were evident in the reactions in Iran to the Kazakhstan talks. The first was expressions of joy by regime speakers and the media, who claimed that the West had backed down and now recognized Iran's nuclear rights, while continuing to retreat and draw closer to the firm stance shown by Tehran in the talks. Some of them saw this as a positive turning point.

On March 3, 2013, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that "starting today, we will witness a gradual removal of the sanctions,"[3] adding two days later that talks between Iran and the P5+1 were "moving in the right direction."[4] Several Majlis members also stated that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's strategy of resistance in the talks had triumphed, and that the P5+1 recognized his alleged fatwa forbidding the development of nuclear weapons.[5]

The second trend consisted of warning against being deceived by the West, and a demand that additional incentives be offered. About a week following the talks, Khamenei stated that Iran's achievements in them were only partial, and that the country must steadfastly continue on its path. Other speakers expressed their absolute lack of confidence in the superpowers, despite previous reports in Iran that progress was being made in the negotiations.

At the same time, the Iranian media emphasized Tehran's demand for reciprocal confidence-building measures of equal weight from the P5+1. At a press conference in Almaty after the talks, Iranian negotiating team head Saeed Jalili, who is in also charge of Iran's nuclear dossier, said: "The P5+1 proposed that in the next six months, concrete reciprocal confidence-building measures be carried out, and proposals for this have been submitted. Iran stressed that these measures must carry equal weight and must take place simultaneously."[6]

This optimistic take on the talks by the regime was criticized by, which is identified with the Green Movement; the website claimed that no breakthrough was imminent.

It should be noted that Iran's stance in the nuclear talks is uncompromising and that Iran is demanding recognition as a member of the nuclear club via the acceptance of its right in principle to enrich uranium. As part of this position, Iran claims that there is no room for continued sanctions against it, and demands that they be removed immediately. As Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammad Khazaee explained, at the Almaty talks the West did indeed take a small step in the direction of Iran's position – but if Iran's rights according to the NPT do not materialize, and if the pressure on it is not removed, the negotiations will not bear fruit.[7] Also, in the matter of supervision, Iran rejects out of hand full oversight of the facilities in which it is conducting nuclear activity, as the IAEA and U.N. Security Council demand, and makes its cooperation with the IAEA conditional upon that body's willingness to accept Iran's agenda in advance.[8]

This paper will review the leading trends in reactions to the Almaty talks:

Iranian Officials, Regime Mouthpieces Celebrate Iran's Victory Over West In Talks

Iranian Negotiating Team Head Jalili: P5+1 Proposal Draws Closer To Iranian View

At a February 27 press conference in Almaty following the round of talks, Iranian negotiating team head Saeed Jalili said: "[The P5+1 has submitted] a more realistic proposal... [after] concluding that they must carry out more concrete measures that will bring it closer to Iran."[9] According to Jalili, "in certain areas, [the P5+1 proposal] is close to the position of Iran, which sees this as a positive [move], but it is still a long way to the desired point... In this round of talks, we have seen that despite their conduct during the past eight months, it was they who, in the talks in Kazakhstan, tried to draw closer to our position, and we view this as a positive thing. If this is a sign of a strategic change, and if they wish to really enter real talks based on a correct strategy for promoting cooperation, this could be a turning point.[10] The Fordo facility is legal, it is recognized by the IAEA, and it will continue to operate under its supervision. [The demand] to close it was completely unjust, and [this time] no such demand was made.[11]

Tehran Friday Prayer Leader: "Our Enrichment Level Is Nobody's Business"

During March 1, 2013 Friday prayers in Tehran, regime spokesman and Tehran Friday prayer leader Kazem Sadeghi said: "[Saeed] Jalili's talks with the P5+1 showed that our position is permanent and firm. At this meeting, the P5+1 responded to Iran's five-point plan submitted during the [June 2012] round of talks in Russia. The P5+1's current position is better and more realistic than in the past. Some news agencies have written nonsense – for example, that Iran agrees to stop enriching [uranium] to 20%. This is nonsense, and the Iranian nation, which has become nuclear, sees its [right to enrich uranium] as inalienable. Our enrichment level is nobody's business, and the Iranian nation will use its right according to its needs, fearing nothing from any superpower."[12]

Kayhan: The West "Was Compelled To Yield To Iran" Due To Its Nuclear Progress

In a March 3, 2013 editorial, the daily Kayhan, which is close to Supreme Leader Khamenei, explained that Iran arrives at the negotiations stronger than ever, and after it had eradicated the West's influence in the Middle East. It stated: "Ten years ago, the West forced the [Iranian] negotiation team, which was impacted by the passivity of the government [led by reformist president Mohammad Khatami] and the reformist Majlis, into a 30-month freeze [in uranium enrichment], dubbed 'a temporary freeze as a confidence-building measure... Now that the West has [only] a tenth of its former strength, and [a mere] one percent of the influence it had a decade ago, it was compelled to yield [to Iran] due to Iran's enrichment [of uranium] to a level of 3.5% and to the stepped-up activity of thousands of centrifuges, and to ask Iran to restrict its enrichment to 20%...

"Today we are many times more respectable than we were a decade ago. During those 10 golden years, the resistance front and the Islamic awakening, of which Iran was at the center, severed and toppled the foundations of the Christian Zionist influence and power in the four corners of the Middle East. During that decade, we forced the West to change its calculations..."[13]

Khamenei's Fatwa Was Recognized By The P5+1

Various Majlis delegates praised the resistance strategy that Supreme Leader Khamenei had shown in the talks, and claimed that his fatwa forbidding the development of nuclear weapons had played a crucial part in them. On March 1, 2013, Majlis member Ali Taheri said: "The fatwa by Leader [Khamenei], which states that nuclear weapons are forbidden, had a critical impact on the Iran-P5+1 talks."[14] Majlis National Security Council member Mehdi Davatgari said: "[One of] the achievements of this round of talks is... that the P5+1 recognized the status of Leader [Khamenei's] fatwa banning the manufacture of nuclear weapons... The status of the fatwa attests to the acceptance of Iran's [nuclear] right and to the integrity of the [Iranian] regime in refraining from obtaining nuclear weapons."[15]

Majlis Member: Iran's Resistance Has Defeated The West

Majlis National Security Council member Mohammad Ismail Kothari told the Fars news agency on March 1, 2013: "The Iranian nation's resistance to Western pressure and sanctions, and its steadfast position on nuclear energy, has defeated the hostile policy of the Western countries – and this defeat has made them more flexible in the talks."[16]

Warning Of Western Deception, Demand For Further Gestures

At a March 7, 2013 Assembly of Experts meeting, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that Iran's achievements in the Almaty talks were only partial, and that Iran must continue steadfastly in its path – hinting that the sanctions' real aim was to bring down the Iranian regime: "In this meeting [in Kazakhstan], Western countries took no important step that could be called an incentive – only steps that were a minor acknowledgement of some of the rights of the Iranian nation. We must wait until the next meeting to test the integrity of the Western countries. The pretext for the sanctions is the nuclear issue, but [the sanctions'] real aim is achieving the West's long-term goal... Faith in Islam, determination, reliance on the people, and preserving and supporting the spirit of hope are the chief factors in the continuing move forward towards greater successes and towards overcoming obstacles and difficulties."[17]

Majlis speaker Ali Larijani said: "The [Almaty] talks were positive, but after them the IAEA director-general and the EU spoke against Iran. The West must not exploit Iran's nobility, and must not anger it. The Western [countries] say one thing in secret and another in public – and this indicates a lack of integrity."[18] On another occasion, Larijani said that several Western countries "left the negotiating table and are seeking adventure. Maybe they see this as a tactic aimed at creating a pretext for sanctions on Iran."[19]

On March 1, 2013, Majlis National Security Council member Mohammad Ismail Kothari told Fars: "We saw a change in the position of the P5+1 at the Almaty talks, as compared to at other talks. However, even if the positions and the agreements with them are put in writing, they will be unreliable – because the U.S., England, France, and Germany are unreliable. Nevertheless, this lack of trust will not dissuade us from seeking to hold talks."[20]

A March 4, 2013 article in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) weekly Sobh-e Sadeq claimed: "The reason for [the P5+1's] withdrawal from unilateral rhetoric in talks and for the new flexibility at Almaty was... the failure of the [West's] 'policy of pressure and reason' of sanctions alongside talks with Iran. They hope that they will be able to impact the [June 2013 Iranian presidential] election process, and [thus] vanquish Iran. They showed partial, pointless flexibility in the talks in order to tie the people and economy of Iran to very minor agreements without providing a genuine, impactful, and balanced incentive... They hope that by using the formula they presented, [in Iran] they will think that there is a chance for an agreement with the U.S. – and that such a summation would constitute a breakthrough...

"The round of talks at Almaty, and the initial summations reached [there], are a test of the West's conduct... If we take a very close look at the issue of the reciprocal confidence-building measures expected to be carried out within six months, as per the Almaty talks... we must at the very least expect a freeze in the West's sanctions policy within the coming month. This is a test of [the West's] integrity, and the Americans and Europeans must show that they are [either] not changing [their policy] and not accepting cooperation [with Iran], or are [genuinely] aspiring [to implement] a new policy and reason in order to respect Iran's nuclear right."[21]

Tehran Demands Reciprocal Confidence-Building Moves Of Equal Weight

Ali Bakri, deputy secretary of the Majlis National Security Council and a member of the Iranian nuclear negotiation team, said: "Both sides must simultaneously carry out moves of equal weight and type. If these three principles are met, and if they have a clear start, end, and duration, we can commence a genuine discussion."[22]

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that at the Almaty talks, "we achieved a general agreement that progress must be gradual. This process is based on equal and reciprocal measures that were agreed in the Istanbul talks. The first measure was discussed at Almaty... [after] no agreement on it was reached in the Baghdad and Moscow talks. At the Almaty talks, the P5+1 presented new measures... but in our view they are still not sufficiently balanced, and cannot be considered logical steps... The test of the other side's intentions is seeing how willing it is to offer balanced measures..."[23]

A March 4, 2013 article in Sobh-e Sadeq also stated that "the principle stressed in Iran's official and public policy is that Iran's nuclear right, and especially its right to enrich [uranium], must be the basis of any proposal [that it can accept]; every proposals package must be balanced in terms of mutual topics that are to be implemented simultaneously. This formula is the clearest framework for a win-win situation, and for ending the unilateral policy [of the West]..."[24]

Reformists Criticize Iranian Spin On Talks

In contrast to the uniform Iranian response at home to the Kazakhstan talks,, which is close to the Green Movement, was exceedingly critical. In a position paper, published March 5, 2013 on the website, it set out the wide gap between what it termed the regime's "intensive propaganda," which it said was aimed at "giving the citizens the false picture that everything is calm and that Iran is winning in the talks – while they [the citizens] suffer from unchecked inflation and the decline of the rial," and what is really happening in the talks as it says was reported by a top European diplomat – who allegedly said that at Almaty, Tehran was asked to reduce its activity at the Fordo facility and to allow the IAEA to supervise it, or else face still harsher sanctions.

The website added: "It is unlikely that anything special will happen in the coming weeks, [or] that there will be some development in the two [upcoming] rounds of talks [set for Istanbul and Kazakhstan in March and April 2013]. Iran is still playing for time while the West is preoccupied with economic crises and international issues, chief among them Syria, and is in no hurry to escalate its actions vis-à-vis Iran."[25]

*Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project.


[1] The sides agreed to a round of talks at the level of experts on March 18, 2013 in Istanbul, and to an additional meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Kazakhstan April 5-6, 2013.

[2] ISNA (Iran), March 10, 2013.

[3] As a result of Salehi's statements, the exchange rate fell to 3,160 rials to the U.S. dollar. However, later on, Michael Mann, spokesman for EU Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, rejected Salehi's claims. Press TV (Iran) March 3, 3013; Ebtekar, Entekhab (Iran), March 5, 2013.

[4] Press TV (Iran), March 5, 2013.

[5] For more on Iran's attempt to deceive the West with the nonexistent fatwa, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 825, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei, April 19, 2012.

[6] Quds Online (Iran), February 27, 2013.

[7], March 20, 2013.

[8] Iranian representative to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that Tehran would agree on a new modality with the IAEA if the latter observed Iran's national security and submitted solid documents on alleged studies. Press TV, September 10, 2012.

[9] Fars (Iran), February 27, 2013.

[10] Quds Online (Iran), February 27, 2013. Ali Bakri, Jalili's deputy, also said that "the issue of a freeze did not come up in the Baghdad talks nor in the Almaty talks. In Almaty we narrowed the Zionists' space... Iran's red line is harm to its nuclear right... This proposal [to Iran at Almaty] does not contradict Iran's nuclear right.", March 1, 2013. Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, "This time, there was a tangible difference in the P5+1 proposals, which did not contradict Iran's basic right to peaceful nuclear activity... We are optimistic regarding the future of the talks... If this attitude continues, we will be able to reach mutual understandings that will be acceptable to both sides." Fars (Iran), March 5, 2013.

[11] Fars (Iran), February 27, 2013.

[12] Fars (Iran), March 1, 2013.

[13] Kayhan (Iran), March 3, 2013.

[14] Fars (Iran), March 1, 2013.

[15], February 27, 2013.

[16] Fars (Iran), March 1, 2013.

[17], March 7, 2013.

[18] Fars (Iran), March 9, 2013.

[19] Press TV (Iran), March 1, 2013.

[20] Fars (Iran), March 1, 2013.

[21] Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), March 4, 2013.

[22], March 1, 2013.

[23] IRNA (Iran), March 12, 2013.

[24] Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), March 4, 2013.

[25], March 5, 2013.

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