Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj.)

Saeed Jalili, the hardest of hardliners in Iran’s ongoing confrontation with the P5+1 over Tehran’s nuclear program, sounded downright upbeat after two days of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan:

We consider these talks a positive step which could be completed by taking a positive and constructive approach and taking reciprocal steps.… We believe this is a turning point.

The two sides will meet March 18-19 in Istanbul, at a technical level, and the resume at the higher level back in Kazakhstan on April 5-6. The Western side, it appears, softened its demands, which encouraged the Iranian side. The new ideas from the P5+1, including the United States, were “more realistic” and “closer to the Iranian position,” said Jalili. According to The New York Times, the United States dropped its demand that Iran shut its underground enrichment facility at Fordo, which Iran has said that it would never do, and “agreed, in another apparent softening, that Iran could produce and keep a small amount of 20 percent enriched uranium for use in a reactor to produce medical isotopes.”

While the P5+1 did suggest that some, relatively minor sanctions on Iran might be lifted in a preliminary step, the relief offered was rather minor and inconsequential. According to Reuters: Western officials said the offer of sanctions relief included a resumption of trade in gold and precious metals. One diplomat said that lifting an embargo on imports of Iranian petrochemical products to Europe, if Iran responded, was also on the table. But a US official said the world powers had not offered to suspend oil or financial sanctions.

Still, asked about the prospects for an agreement, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he was “very confident.”

Despite years of war-whooping and crisis-mongering on Iran, it’s beginning to sink in that Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t represent much of a threat. In fact, Iran has been taking steps on the ground to reassure the most hawkish observers, including Israel, that a bomb isn’t imminent. As the Times reported yesterday, in a passage notably less alarmist than is often the case:

At the same time, Iran has taken some of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and converted it into reactor fuel, which cannot easily be turned back. The conversion means that Iran now has less of the uranium needed to make a bomb, reducing the sense of urgency among the six powers, and Israel, that its nuclear program needs to be slowed.

But the total Iranian stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has nonetheless grown since November to 167 kilograms from 135 kilograms, according to the most recent I.A.E.A. report—closer to, if still significantly below, the 240 kilograms or 250 kilograms many experts consider necessary, once enriched further, to produce a nuclear weapon.

In other words, the stuff that Iran has is really hard to convert into bomb material, and anyway it doesn’t have enough of it.

Robert Dreyfuss recently returned from a trip to Tanzania, where he looked at the successes and limitations of foreign aid.