Iran’s new foreign minister will join talks with six key nations trying to rein in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program later this week, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said Monday.
The Thursday meeting is to include US Secretary of State John Kerry, and will be the highest level meeting between US and Iranian officials since 1979, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that she saw “energy and determination” for talks with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to move forward. Foreign ministers of the six nations are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday.
The meeting, Ashton said, would likely be a “short discussion,” but she hoped it would pave the way for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Ashton said she and her team will meet with Zarif again in October to follow up on Thursday’s meeting to continue their discussion on reviving long-stalled negotiations.
“We had a good and constructive discussion,” she said of her half-hour meeting with Zarif. “We didn’t talk about the details of what we would do. The purpose of this meeting was to establish how we would go forward.”
The election of Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, considered a relative moderate in Iran’s hard-line clerical regime, has sparked speculation about possible movement on the nuclear issue.
On Friday, the White House intimated that a meeting between President Barack Obama and Rouhani could be a possibility when both leaders at the UN General Assembly. It was revealed last week that the two leaders have exchanged correspondence.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the US would be ready to engage in talks “on the basis of mutual respect” with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Earnest said the White House wants Tehran to prove that its program is only for civilian purposes.
Earnest’s signals came after similar statements by White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said that Obama would be willing to sit down with Rouhani if he got the impression that Tehran was serious about its intention to curb its nuclear program.
The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran because of concerns it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The US and its Western allies have imposed even more punishing sanctions which have severely affected Iran’s economy and drawn criticism from its citizens.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, aimed only at producing energy and isotopes for medical use.
Asked if she thought a breakthrough was imminent on restarting negotiations, Ashton replied, “I was struck, as I said, by the energy and determination that the foreign minister demonstrated to me.”
“I have worked, I think, very hard to find a way in which we can address this issue of great concern, and I will take every opportunity to try and do that — and I hope this will be one,” she said.
Rohani told NBC last week that Iran has “never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do so.”
He said last month that the Foreign Ministry — not the Supreme National Security Council — will lead nuclear talks with world powers, a shift away from security officials being in control.