September 26, 2013

Diplomats hail new Iranian attitude in nuclear talks

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. and its European allies said Thursday they were pleased by a new tone and a significant shift in attitude from Iran in talks aimed at resolving the impasse over the country's disputed nuclear activities. Iran said it was eager to dispel suspicions that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon and to get punishing international sanctions lifted as fast as possible.

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Seated at the table, from left, are U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany at U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday.

The Associated Press

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also had an unexpected one-on-one meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said six world powers and Iran had agreed to fast-track nuclear negotiations with the hope of reaching a deal within a year.

Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany also agreed to hold a new round of substantive nuclear negotiations on Oct. 15-16 in Geneva.

"We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game ... and move toward finalizing it hopefully within a year's time," Zarif said after the talks ended. "I thought I was too ambitious, bordering on naiveté. But I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster."

Kerry said he was struck by a "very different tone" from Tehran after their sessions, which marked the highest-level direct contact between the United States and Iran in six years. But, like his European colleagues, he stressed that a single meeting was not enough to assuage international concerns that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.

"Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, that was welcome, does not answer those questions," Kerry told reporters. "All of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today and that he did put some possibilities on the table."

He said they agree to continue the process and try to find concrete ways to answer the questions that people have about Iran's nuclear activities.

Zarif and Kerry sat next to each other at a U-shaped table during the group talks. It was the highest-level direct contact between the United States and Iran in six years. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suggested the two men had shaken hands and been cordial with each other.

She also said the parties had agreed to "go forward with an ambitious timeframe."

Zarif said the meetings were "very constructive" and "very substantive."

"We hope to be able to make progress to solve this issue in a timely fashion (and) to make sure (there is) no concern that Iran's program is anything but peaceful," he said. "I am satisfied with this first step," he added. "Now we have to see whether we can match our positive words with serious deeds so we can move forward."

He said the end result would have to include "a total lifting" of the international sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there had been a "big improvement in the tone and spirit" from Iran compared with the previous government under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the meeting had taken place in a "completely different tone, atmosphere and spirit" than what the group was used to and that a "window of opportunity has opened" for a peaceful resolution of the situation. He too insisted that Iran's words would have to be matched by actions.

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