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Negotiators At Six-Nation Talks See Signs Of Hope In Iran Nuclear Standoff

Officials at six-nation nuclear talks on limiting Iran's nuclear program say the two-day meeting in Kazakhstan has been a turning point, and Tehran's lead negotiator described the discussions as a positive step.

But NPR's Peter Kenyon, reporting from the talks in Almaty, says it appears that most of what was accomplished was simply laying the groundwork for future discussions.

"If you're looking for tangible, real progress to hang something on, this is not it," according to Kenyon. "But Western officials say this kind of process is a prerequisite to getting the diplomacy working, and it deserves a chance."

That sentiment was expressed by China's assistant foreign minister, Ma Zhaoxu, who heads the Chinese delegation to the talks:

"We could say that this round of talks have brought about tangible progress on the negotiation over Iran's nuclear issue, which is beneficial to settling the dispute through dialogue," he said.

China is one of six world powers at the talks, which also include the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and Germany.

Tehran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called the discussions a "positive step" and "more realistic" than previous talks on Iran's nuclear program.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the world powers, said she hoped the Iranian side was "looking positively on the proposals we put forward. The proposals we put forward are designed to build in confidence and enable us to move forward."

A number of significant U.S. and EU sanctions would be lifted if Iran agrees to temporarily shut down its Fordo underground enrichment facility, according to NPR's Kenyon, "but not the heavy hitters, not the banking and the energy sanctions — they would remain in place."

However, Reuters news agency quotes Jalili as saying there is "no justification" for taking Fordo offline.

The Obama administration, which has been pushing for a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Tehran over its apparently growing stockpile of enriched uranium, has not ruled out the possibility of military intervention to prevent a weaponization of that capability.

"Some analysts are worrying that Iran seems to be happy to keep things in the proposal stage indefinitely while it continues to enrich uranium," Kenyon says. "They worry that Iran doesn't take seriously the periodic rumblings from Israel and other hardliners about the need to set back Iran's nuclear program by force."

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