Kerry heralded a “very different tone” from Tehran.
UNITED NATIONS – The United States 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.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also had an unexpected one-on-one meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said the 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.
‘All of us were pleased’
“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 said. “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. E.U. 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 time frame.”
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.”
‘Window of opportunity’
He said the end result would have to include “a total lifting” of the 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.
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and Zarif, both in New York this week to attend the U.N. General Assembly, have said they are anxious to clinch an agreement quickly that could bring relief from sanctions that have slashed oil exports, restricted its international bank transfers, devalued the currency and sent inflation surging.
Encouraged by signs that Rowhani will adopt a more moderate stance than Ahmadinejad, but skeptical that the country’s all-powerful supreme leader will allow a change in course, President Obama has directed Kerry to lead a new outreach and explore possibilities for resolving the long-standing dispute.
Rowhani has come across as a more moderate face of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran and his 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.