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US, Iran foreign ministers to hold first nuclear talks
by Staff Writers
United Nations, United States Sept 24, 2013

White House not ruling out Obama-Rowhani meeting
New York, United States (AFP) Sept 23, 2013 - The White House would not rule out Monday a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Iran's new President Hassan Rowhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile will attend a meeting of major powers this week with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tehran's nuclear program, it said.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters that while Obama was not scheduled to meet with Rowhani, it could not be ruled out.

"We are open to engagement with the Iranian government on a variety of levels provided that they will follow through on their commitment to address the international community's concern on their nuclear program," he said.

Britain awaits 'concrete' steps by Iran: Hague
United Nations, United States (AFP) Sept 23, 2013 - The international community is waiting for "concrete steps" by Iran before moving to improve relations with the country's new government, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday.

After meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hague welcomed conciliatory statements by the new government and said moves could be made to end a suspension in ties since Britain's Tehran embassy was ransacked in November 2011.

Hague said he and Zarif had discussed Iran's contested nuclear program, the Syria conflict and signals coming from President Hassan Rowhani that he wants better relations with the West.

Britain "does not seek a confrontational relationship with Iran, as I explained to the foreign minister, and we are open to better relations," Hague told reporters.

"The time is now right for those statements to be matched by concrete steps by Iran to address the international community's concerns about Iran's intentions. And if such steps are taken then I believe a more constructive relationship can be created between us," he added.

"Of course we urge them firmly down that path," Hague said. "We will be ready to reciprocate in many ways."

Hague said Iran had to revive talks with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- the so-called E3+3 group -- over its suspect nuclear program, as well as on bilateral ties, frozen after Tehran demonstrations blamed on hardline followers of the Iranian government.

He called on Iran to "play a constructive role" in the Syria conflict by ending its support for President Bashar al-Assad, supporting a Syria peace accord that the United Nations is trying to broker and to improve its own human rights.

Hague said the two ministers had agreed bilateral relations should be improved on a "step-by-step" basis.

"I said to Mr. Zarif how damaging it was, of course, to our relations when our embassy compounds were overrun, when our staff were mistreated, the Vienna convention flouted, in November 2011," Hague said. Britain ordered Iran to close its London embassy following the Tehran attack.

Hague added that that he and Zarif "have now asked our officials to do further work" on improving ties.

But he stressed that a British embassy could only reopen if it could function "without the harassment and without the difficulties that were placed in the way of it before."

"But we have started our discussions on improving our bilateral relationship. I think that is the most we can say for now," he said.

Hague will take part in a ministerial meeting of the E3+3 powers with Zarif in New York on Thursday.

In a diplomatic breakthrough, the foreign ministers of arch rivals, the United States and Iran, will hold their first talks on Tehran's contested nuclear drive at a landmark meeting on Thursday. Secretary of State John Kerry and new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will join counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia at the meeting at United Nations headquarters, US officials said Monday. High-level contacts between Iranian and US officials have been rare since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But in another sign of a possible thaw, the White House said it was not ruling out a meeting between President Barack Obama and new Iranian counterpart Hassan Rowhani on the sidelines of this week's UN General Assembly. The encounter between Zarif and Kerry comes as Iran calls for the easing of crippling international sanctions over its uranium enrichment. Rowhani said in a US television interview last week that Iran would "never" build a nuclear bomb. But the United States and its allies still believe Tehran wants that capability and are waiting for signs that Rowhani is serious about better relations. The talks "will give our ministers a sense of their level of seriousness and whether they are coming with concrete new proposals and whether this charm offensive actually has substance to it," a senior US State Department official said. The US-educated Zarif, whose knowledge of Western culture has endeared him to foreign diplomats, confirmed Thursday's meeting on his Facebook page. Zarif said he spoke to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton of Iran's "political will as well as a conceptual framework to reach a solution that would ensure the Iranian people's rights and would lift the sanctions." "It is evident from her post-meeting interview that she took it positively," Zarif commented on the social media site. The United States, which has spearheaded an international drive to cut Iran's oil exports, has insisted it will not lift sanctions without progress. Ashton, who has led Western efforts to engage with Tehran, said she was "struck by the energy and determination" of Zarif. But "as you would appreciate, there is a huge amount of work to do," she added. -- Talk of progress, not breakthrough -- The international powers made a new proposal to Tehran this year, before Rowhani's election, believed to offer some sanctions relief in return for a scaling back of Iran's uranium enrichment. "There's a sense that we never actually got a firm response or a detailed response to that," the US official said. Zarif also met in New York with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who called for Iran to take "concrete steps" to back Rowhani's calls for better ties. "Of course we urge them firmly down that path," Hague told reporters. "We will be ready to reciprocate in many ways." Britain suspended ties with Iran after its Tehran embassy was ransacked in 2011. But Hague said that Britain "does not want a confrontational relationship with Iran" and was "open to better relations." Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, which historically has had cordial relations with Iran, also met Zarif and urged him to be "flexible" to allow for "concrete progress," a Japanese official said. Thursday's meeting will be a milestone between the United States and Iran, which broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 after the overthrow of the late Shah and the taking of US diplomats as hostages. In 2007, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice met her Iranian counterpart informally at an international summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Her predecessor, Colin Powell, met Iran's foreign minister at the same venue in 2004. But no Iranian minister has taken part in ministerial meetings of the major powers trying to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear drive. Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security adviser, told reporters that while Obama was not scheduled to meet with Rowhani, it could not be ruled out. "We are open to engagement with the Iranian government on a variety of levels provided that they will follow through on their commitment to address the international community's concern on their nuclear program," he said. In an opinion piece in Britain's Guardian newspaper, former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami warned against letting diplomacy fail, singling out Israel for "a campaign to discredit" Rowhani who he said enjoyed the "explicit support" of Iran's supreme leader. "Failure now to create an atmosphere of trust and meaningful dialogue will only boost extremist forces on all sides," Khatami wrote. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized overtures to Rowhani, calling him a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and urging no let-up in pressure. Rowhani will address the General Assembly on Tuesday after meeting French President Francois Hollande.


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