Russia says Iran nuclear talks progress but could still unravel

* Russia says Iran, 6 powers advanced in technical talks

* Warns of danger of backsliding despite upbeat mood

* Says "plenty of homework" before April talks

* Iran seems cool to offer of limited sanctions relief

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW, March 21 (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday that

Iran and six global powers made progress in expert-level talks

this week on the standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme but

there was no breakthrough and that backsliding remained a

danger.

"This progress is real but it is not sufficient to speak of

a definitive shift," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov,

Russia's chief negotiator on the issue, said of the talks in

Istanbul on Monday.

"We cannot say this progress is irreversible. This alarms us

a little, but from round to round, we have a more and more

businesslike discussion of all the issues," he told reporters.

Russia, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and

China are spearheading diplomacy meant to ensure that Iran,

which says its nuclear programme has purely peaceful ends,

neither seeks nor achieves nuclear weapons capability.

In Istanbul, the six powers gave Iran more details of

proposals made at political-level talks in late February in the

Kazakh city of Almaty, where they offered Tehran modest

sanctions relief if it curbs its most sensitive nuclear work.

Ryabkov said the sides had "plenty of homework to do" before

the next meeting at a political level, in Almaty on April 5-6,

but suggested the technical talks had laid some good groundwork.

"When there is movement in talks, you do your homework in a

good mood, and not like a failing student who is about to get

kicked out of the classroom anyway," he said.

"It was a very useful event, ending on a positive note,"

said Ryabkov, who welcomed what he called "Iran's display of

readiness to conduct concrete dialogue."

Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant and has

better relations with Tehran than do Western powers, has tended

to be more upbeat than Western leaders about Iran's attitude

toward the negotiations.

Western officials have said the offer presented by the six

powers in Kazakhstan included an easing of a ban on trade in

gold and other precious metals, and a relaxation of an import

embargo on Iranian petrochemical products.

In exchange, a senior U.S official said, Iran would among

other things have to suspend uranium enrichment to a fissile

concentration of 20 percent at its Fordow underground facility

and "constrain the ability to quickly resume operations there".

Iran has hinted it is not satisfied with the powers' offer,

although chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said after last month's

Almaty talks that the six had tried to "get closer to our

viewpoint" and that, he added, was positive in itself.

Western diplomatic sources said experts had engaged in

detailed technical talks about the powers' proposal in the

Istanbul meeting, but it was unclear whether this would lead to

substantive results at the political talks in early April.

The European Union, whose foreign policy chief Catherine

Ashton oversees contacts with Iran for the six powers, has given

no public indication of whether there was progress in Istanbul.

Russia went along with four rounds of U.N. Security Council

sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme but opposes

further sanctions and has sharply criticised separate Western

sanctions, saying they are counterproductive.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by

Mark Heinrich)

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