UNITED NATIONS: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif held landmark talks Thursday, in the highest level bilateral meeting between the two foes since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Both men confirmed they had a short meeting after fuller nuclear talks with the so-called P5 group that Zarif described as “very constructive” and “very substantive.”
Following the meeting, Zarif said world powers had agreed to try to fast-track nuclear negotiations, to “hopefully, within a year’s time.”
European diplomats said they were pleased by a new tone and attitude from Iran in talks aimed at resolving the impasse over its nuclear program.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the meeting between Iran’s top diplomat and foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany were “substantial.”
She said they had agreed to “go forward with an ambitious timeframe” and that senior negotiators would meet in Geneva on Oct 15-16.
Zarif stressed “the need to continue these discussions to give them the political impetus that they require and to hopefully reach a conclusion within a reasonable time.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there had been a “big improvement in the tone and spirit” from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif compared with representatives of the previous Iranian government.
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 warned, though, that Iran’s words would have to be matched by actions.
“Words are not enough,” Westerwelle said.
“Actions and tangible results are what counts. The devil is in the detail, so it is now important that we have substantial and serious negotiations very soon,” the German official added.
The U.S. insists Rouhani must back up his calls for moderation with actions that verify Iran is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
In Washington before the meeting, the White House resisted putting a timeline on the nuclear negotiations.
“We’re not expecting any breakthrough in this initial meeting,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “But this is part of us testing the seriousness of the Iranians, who are obviously engaging in new overtures and showing new interest in trying to solve this very serious matter.”Encouraged by signs that Rouhani will adopt a more moderate stance than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but skeptical that the country’s all-powerful supreme leader will allow a change in course, President Barack Obama has directed Kerry to lead a new outreach and explore possibilities for resolving the long-standing dispute.
Rouhani’s pronouncements at the U.N. have raised guarded hopes that progress might be possible. But they have also served as a reminder that the path to that progress will not be quick or easy.
In his speech to world leaders at the U.N. on Tuesday, he repeated Iran’s long-standing demand that any nuclear agreement must recognize the country’s right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium.
The U.S. and its allies have long demanded a halt to enrichment, fearing Tehran could secretly build nuclear warheads. They have imposed sanctions over Iran’s refusal to halt enrichment. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as fuel for nuclear energy but at higher levels, it can be used to make a nuclear weapon.
He called Thursday for worldwide disarmament of nuclear weapons as “our highest priority.”
“No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons,” he told the first-ever meeting of a U.N. forum on nuclear disarmament.
He was speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organization of mostly developing countries.
He repeated the organization’s long-standing demand that Israel join the international treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons.
Israel, which has repeatedly accused Iran of aspiring to build a nuclear bomb is the only Mideast state that has not signed the landmark 1979 Non-Proliferation Treaty.