The U.N. Security Council has demanded a stop to both that effort and all enrichment in a series of resolutions since 2006. Iran denies any interest in atomic arms, insists its enrichment program serves only peaceful needs, says it has a right to enrich under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and describes U.N. Security Council demands as illegal.
The lack of progress at Almaty was a clear indication that Tehran wants greater rewards for any concessions that the six are ready to give. Among other incentives, they have offered to lift sanctions on Iran's gold transactions and petrochemical trade. But Iran demands much more substantial sanctions relief, including an end to international penalties crippling its oil trade and financial transactions
A senior U.S. official cited Iranian officials who described the six-power offer of limited sanctions relief in exchange for meeting their demands on 20-percent uranium as a "turning point" when the two sides met last month. The official said the U.S. administration was "disappointed that this rhetoric did not carry over into our negotiations."
The official demanded anonymity as a condition for participation in a post-meeting briefing for reporters.
Jalili in turn urged the six powers to demonstrate their "willingness and sincerity" by taking appropriate confidence-building steps in the future" — shorthand for Iran's demand to lift major sanctions and offer other concessions.
At the same time, he suggested some potential give on the Iranian side, suggesting discussion on some curbs of 20-percent enrichment "can be continued in the talks" if the six "move away from hostile treatment ... of the Iranian people."
With Iran previously describing the crushing sanctions on its oil exports and financial transactions as hostile acts, his comments suggested that Iran would consider compromise only if those penalties were lifted. That is far more than the relief being offered, with the six prepared to remove sanctions only on Tehran's gold transactions and petrochemical exports.
In demanding recognition of its right to enrich, Iran may hope to exploit some differences among the six, with Russia in recent months pushing for concessions on that point as a way to break negotiating deadlock.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led his country's delegation at Almaty, said after the talks that Moscow "considers that it's necessary to recognize all rights of Iran, including enrichment." In exchange, he said Iran must accept more international monitoring of its nuclear program.
A British Foreign Office statement said "a wide gap remains between the parties. Iran's current position falls far short of what is needed to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough."
Indirectly warning of further sanctions, the statement urged Tehran to "consider carefully whether it wants to continue on its current course, and face increasing pressure and isolation from the international community, or to enter into meaningful negotiations."
But Ryabkov described the meeting as "undoubtedly a step forward." Those remarks, and his comments on enrichment, both to Russian news agencies, suggested differences exist among the six, despite assertions by negotiators from Western nations of total unity at the negotiations.
Associated Press writers Mansur Mirovalev in Almaty, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, James Heinz in Moscow and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.