Iran and world powers have concluded a surprisingly cordial summit in Kazakhstan that appears to have given a gentle nudge to the decade-long nuclear stalemate, experts say.
Two days of talks in the Tien Shan mountain city of Almaty concluded on Wednesday amid continued sabre-rattling from Israel and worry on world oil markets about the prospects of yet another Middle East war.
But Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France - plus Germany, did agree to hold new talks on Iran's disputed nuclear drive in the coming weeks.
Iran flatly denies charges that it is enriching uranium at an increasingly rapid pace in order to one day build a nuclear weapon. But Israel and its main ally the US have few doubts this is exactly the case.
The issue has been debated on three prior occasions in the past year alone. The last meeting between Iran and the leading powers, known as P5+1, ended in June without the sides able to agree to meet again.
Things went differently this time. The meeting saw the leading powers offer Iran a softening of non-oil or financial sector-related sanctions in exchange for concessions over its uranium enrichment operations.
Encouraged by the possible sanctions relief, Tehran said the parties had agreed to hold their next meeting at the same venue on April 5 to 6, after talks between senior civil servants on the issue in Istanbul next month.
"Some of the points raised in their [the world powers'] response were more realistic, compared to what they said in the past," chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili said in words that amounted to rare praise.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later said that "negotiations are better than confrontation", while Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said "things are taking a turning point".
The tone - if not the actual content of what was achieved in Kazakhstan - left some analysts surprised and impressed.
"This is interesting because what we are seeing is the start of a process," said Moscow's PIR nuclear safety research institute analyst Andrei Baklitsky.
US officials have been keen to call the Almaty session "useful" - a more neutral word than either "positive" or "negative".
But they also pointed out that a good atmosphere during negotiations does not necessarily produce workable compromises.Topics: Iran Iran nuclear