Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has told a US newspaper that he wants to reach a nuclear agreement with world powers sooner rather than later. The interview came ahead of a high-level diplomatic meeting on the issue.
Rouhani told the Washington Post in an interview on Wednesday that he wanted to power ahead with talks on the country's nuclear program, reaching a deal within the next half year.
"The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that's short," Rouhani told the newspaper. "The shorter it is, the more beneficial it is to everyone. If it's three months, that would be Iran's choice; if it's six months that's still good. It's a question of months not years."
The president had been responding to a question about a time frame for negotiations ahead of the Iranian foreign minister's Thursday meeting with counterparts from the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany - the so-called P5+1 group.
When asked if negotiations would require the backing of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani said the matter was "one of the responsibilities of my government."
"My government is fully empowered to finalize the nuclear talks," he said.
The US, European nations and Israel suspect that Iran's nuclear enrichment program is being used to develop fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly said that the program is intended for purely peaceful purposes, such as the development of isotopes for use in medical treatments.
Rare high-level meeting
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was due to hold talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday. They will be joined by counterparts from permanent Security Council members Britain, China, France and Russia, as well as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
As far as Washington and Tehran are concerned, it is one of the highest level diplomatic meetings between the two countries since before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
When asked what he expected from the meeting, Zarif told reporters on Wednesday he wanted: "a jump-start to the negotiations ... with a view to reaching an agreement within the shortest span."
At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama cautiously welcomed early diplomatic overtures from Rouhani, who assumed office in August, as the grounding for a possible nuclear deal. Obama called for "concrete steps" that would help resolve the issue, over which Iran has been negotiating with the P5+1 group since 2006.
The last round of negotiations in Kazakhstan in April failed to produce a deal that would have seen international sanctions against Iran eased in return for a suspension of the most sensitive enrichment work.
rc/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters)