UNITED NATIONS – Foreign ministers of Iran and the US held a meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly in a first since 1979 revolution in the Islamic republic.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and diplomats from five other world powers sat down Thursday as the world leaders had gathered at the UN for the annual general meeting.
Kerry said the meeting was “constructive”. He and Zarif spoke separately for about half an hour during the meeting.
“We had more than a chat,” Zarif said, suggesting the talk was substantive.
The meeting between Iran and the six nations five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany was held as a prelude to a formal meeting on Oct 15 and 16 in Geneva on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the diplomats had all agreed to “go forward with an ambitious time frame”.
Zarif said he was optimistic about the talks. “We agreed to jump-start the process so we could move forward towards finalizing it in a year’s time.”
“We will move forward, but we will test each other as we go along,” he added.
Ashton said she envisioned an “ambitious timetable,” of next steps that would be discussed when the group meets in Geneva next month.
The details will address what Iran needs to do, how soon, and how the international community can verify whether it is keeping its word.
“Twelve months is a good time frame to think about implementation on the ground,” she said.
“It was a substantial meeting (held in) a good atmosphere (and was) energetic.”
Media reports said that the diplomats were seated around a U-shaped table.
When Kerry appeared, part way through the gathering, a European diplomat gave up her seat so Kerry could sit next to Zarif. The two shook hands.
After the meeting, Kerry invited Zarif to step to the side so they could continue their conversation.
A US official said it was not yet clear whether Iran had made a “strategic decision” to accept limits on its nuclear programme.
Kerry signaled that he would quickly test whether Rouhani’s government was ready for compromise and was not seeking dialogue simply to drag out the negotiations while Iran’s nuclear program advances.
At home, Obama faces a daunting task to convince a Congress that is united in its anti-Iran zeal as on few issues.