Iran Talks Called Substantive, More Talks Nov. 7-8

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GENEVA -- Iran and a group of six world powers said on Wednesday that they had engaged in "substantive" and "forward-looking" discussions on the disputed Iranian nuclear program and that they would reconvene in early November.

The account of the two days of talks in Geneva came in a rare joint statement from Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, who is the lead negotiator with Iran.

Representatives from the two sides are to meet again in Geneva for talks on Nov. 7 and 8. Nuclear and sanctions experts from the two sides are to meet before then to discuss technical issues.

The meeting was the first between Iran and the six powers since the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, took office in August and vowed to resolve longstanding concerns about the Iranian nuclear program, which Iran says is peaceful but many nations suspect is a guise for developing the ability to make weapons.

In a news conference, Mr. Zarif said that the meeting had been "fruitful" and would "hopefully be the beginning of a new phase in our relationship." He said that he hoped the West would take a "balanced" approach, an apparent allusion to Iranian demands for an easing of the tough economic sanctions that have hurt Iran.

Neither Western nor Iranian officials provided any concrete examples of measures that might have been agreed upon. Nor did Iran say it had taken any steps to pause its program to enrich uranium or expand its nuclear infrastructure.

Mr. Zarif stated that Iran planned to continue with its nuclear enrichment program while trying assuage Western concerns. But he declined to say whether or when Iran might accept extensive monitoring provided for by an protocol that allows inspections to be carried out when prohibited activity is suspected.

Earlier, before the discussions had officially adjourned, Mr. Zarif had signaled that both sides would meet again soon.

"The talks will continue in a few weeks in Geneva and during this period the members of the P5+1 will have a chance to acquire the necessary readiness regarding the details of Iran's plans and the steps that they must take," the foreign minister wrote on his Facebook page.

Mr. Zarif was referring to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany, the six big powers who have engaged in on-again, off-again talks with Iran for years.

There was no indication of any breakthrough, and the United States has repeatedly said that it was important for Iran to take steps to pause or even reverse its nuclear program while negotiations continue.

Iran has sought assurances that it would have the right to enrich uranium as part of any comprehensive agreement and has pressed for the removal of sanctions on its banking, oil and other industries, which have deeply hurt its economy.

Mr. Zarif's Facebook message appeared to be signaling that Tehran believed there were steps the West needed to take for the negotiations to be productive.

During their visit to the United Nations last month, both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif repeatedly emphasized Iran's eagerness to move forward on the nuclear issue. But they have also said the country must be allowed to enrich its own nuclear fuel, a right it claims as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Obama administration has welcomed the change in tone from Iran, but it has remained cautious about any possible deal. Iran's critics have repeatedly contended that the country has a history of delaying and obfuscation over the nuclear issue and in the past few years has greatly expanded its ability to enrich uranium.

On Tuesday, speaking in English and using PowerPoint, Mr. Zarif outlined a proposal to the representatives of the big powers that would constrain his country's nuclear program in return for an acknowledgment of the right to enrich uranium and an easing of the sanctions.

After the discussions, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, and his team met for about an hour at the United Nations headquarters here with the American delegation, led by Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official. The substance was not disclosed, but the meeting itself was unusual.

The proposal presented by Mr. Zarif called for "an end to an unnecessary crisis and a start for new horizons," according to Iranian officials.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 16, 2013 2:02 PM


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