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'Why Almaty?' Journalists at Iran nuclear talks wonder

Iran's representatives, led by their top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, fourth from left, sit at a table during the talks with world powers representatives on Iran's nuclear program in the Kazakh city of Almaty on Wednesday.Stanislav Filippov / AFP

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- On Tuesday, officials from Iran and six world powers held their first meeting in eight months as part of the effort to resolve a dispute over Tehran's nuclear program that threatens to trigger another war in the Middle East.

This time, officials and journalists set up shop in the city of Almaty, deep in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan.

While the negotiators negotiated, journalists waiting in another hotel wondered, “Why Almaty?”

After all, this is not an easy location for anyone to get to -- journalist or diplomat.

Istanbul seemed like the obvious choice, with two previous rounds having been held there (talks have also been held in Baghdad and Moscow). But Turkey has joined the ever-expanding list of countries that have a tense relationship with Iran. The two countries until recently enjoyed a strong relationship, but that soured with Turkey’s support of the rebels in Syria. Iran is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s closest ally. 

Local journalists explain that Kazakhstan is a symbolically wise choice because it was the first ex-Soviet state to give up nuclear weapons. Besides, it is a neutral country between the West and Iran.

Choosing the venue for the talks was a negotiation in its own right. The six world powers -- Germany, China, France, Russia, the United States and United Kingdom -- suggested Geneva; Iran suggested Baghdad. Then they suggested Stockholm; Iran suggested Almaty.

When the six suggested going west, Iran wanted to go east.

So now journalists and officials sit in Almaty -- but not together, because most journalists weren't allowed to attend.  While the diplomats and officials discussed matters in the Rixos hotel, more than 100 journalists hung out in the InterContinental.  In a palm tree-graced lobby, reporters spent their day gossiping and speculating whether the two sides would even agree to another round of talks Wednesday morning. 

Mostly, many journalists seemed very bored, despite the spread that the Kazakh government laid out for them at lunch.

At the end of a long day of waiting, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton updated reporters.

"We had a useful meeting today," Michael Mann said. “Hopefully the Iranians will be able to reflect overnight and will come back and view our proposal positively."

There could still be another breakdown in negotiations, as in previous talks during the last seven years, and then another hiatus. As in other times, a negotiated agreement could prove impossible to reach.

And if that happens, as it has every other time, negotiators and journalists will look for another world city to alight in.


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