Iran and the US have heralded landmark nuclear talks as "constructive." Attended by foreign ministers from Iran and six other world powers, they were the highest-level negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program since 2007.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif came face-to-face with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in an effort to jump-start nuclear talks which have been stalled since April.
The meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York was the first direct meeting between a US Secretary of State and an Iranian foreign minister since a brief encounter in May 2007, indicating a distinct thaw in troubled relations.
Also in attendance were other diplomats from the so-called P5+1 group which comprises of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Britain, France, Russia, China - plus Germany.
They agreed to hold substantive talks on Iran's atomic ambitions in Geneva on October 15 and 16.
The West is seeking to rein in Tehran's disputed nuclear program which it fears could be a cover for the development of an atomic bomb. Iran insists, however, that its program is designed for peaceful purposes only.
'Change of tone' from Iran
After the meeting, Kerry told reporters the negotiations with Zarif had proved "constructive." He praised the foreign minister's presentation "which was very different in tone, and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to the possibilities in the future."
But he stressed that words alone were not enough to convince western powers that Tehran was not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
"We've agreed to try to find a way to answer the questions that people have about Iran's nuclear program," Kerry said. "Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, that was welcome, does not answer those questions."
Speaking after Kerry, Zarif reiterated that the meeting had been "very constructive" and "very businesslike."
"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."
Zarif said the end result would be a "total lifting" of the international sanctions imposed in response to Iran's uranium enrichment scheme, which have crippled the nation's economy.
Rouhani calls for nuclear-free Middle East
Zarif and Iran's President Hasan Rouhani have both expressed hope in recent days that a deal on the decade-long standoff can be resolved quickly. In an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday, Rouhani said he hoped an agreement could be reached with western powers within three to six months.
Since his election in June, Rouhani has taken steps to improve diplomatic relations with the US. The foes have been estranged since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed Shah.
In a speech to a United Nations nuclear disarmament conference held on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Thursday he called for stricter controls of nuclear weapons as part of a global effort to rid the world of atomic arms.
"No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons," he said. "As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist. The only absolute guarantee is their total elimination."
He criticized Israel for being the only country in the Middle East to have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed," he said.
"Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay," he said, adding that "all nuclear activities in the region" should be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and nuclear safeguards.
ccp/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)