The United States and Iran have held the highest level direct talks in over 30 years on the sidelines of a meeting in New York aimed at resolving the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program. Following a meeting with leaders from five other world powers on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pulled aside Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for about 30 minutes of unexpected, one-on-one nuclear talks.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian FM Javad Zarif, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton
Their meeting was the highest level official interaction between U.S. and Iranian officials since the Islamic revolution of 1979, when American hostages were seized and diplomatic ties severed.
Kerry said he and his counterparts had a "constructive meeting" with Zarif, noting the "very different tone" from Iran as compared to under the former president. However, he pointed out that "one meeting and a change of tone" does not answer questions about Iran's nuclear program.
For his part, Zarif said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany agreed at the meeting to speed up nuclear talks and noted that Iran hopes to reach an agreement within a year.
U.S. officials confirmed that Iran made such a proposal, but they encouraged Tehran to come prepared to make a more detailed offer when the so-called P5+1 talks resume next month in Geneva, as agreed during the meeting.
Kerry said he was pleased to see Zarif come to New York to meet with major world powers, and said Zarif put some "possibilities" on the table. However, he later told CBS that the U.S. will not lift sanctions until Iran has a verifiable and transparent nuclear inspection process in place.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the tone and spirit of the talks were extremely good and were a big improvement over recent years.
Iran is under international sanctions over suspicions that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful civilian purposes and says it has a right to carry out such a program.
Iran's new centrist President Hassan Rouhani says he wants a deal on his country's nuclear program in three to six months, saying the "only way forward" is for a timeline to be inserted into the talks.
During a U.N. disarmament meeting, Rouhani said no nations should possess nuclear weapons. He says there are no "right hands for these wrong weapons."
He says nuclear disarmament is Iran's highest priority and called on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and put its widely suspected nuclear arms under international control.
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