Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will join the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany later this week to discuss the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton
said on Monday.
"We talked about a number of important issues that focused on the nuclear issue," Ashton told reporters after meeting Zarif ahead of this week's UN General Assembly session in New York. "We had a good and constructive discussion."
Monday's talks were the first face-to-face discussions between Ashton and Zarif and come amid hopes for an easing in the long dispute between the West and Iran
over Tehran's nuclear intentions.
Meanwhile, a US official said US Secretary of State John Kerry
the Security Council's meeting with Iran's foreign minister. According to the State Department, Kerry welcomed Zarif's "commitment to a serious response" and Zarif's agreement to meet the major powers to discuss Iran's nuclear program.
The West asserts that Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons and is determined to stop this, imposing tough economic sanctions. Iran says it is not trying to produce a bomb but has insisted on its
right to enrich uranium for the purpose of peaceful energy production.
The EU, led by Ashton, has been the interlocutor for the talks between Iran and the five permanent Security Council members - Britain, China,
and the United States - and Germany.
Asked whether there was any possibility of a relaxation of sanctions against Iran, which some analysts see as the reason for a more conciliatory approach from Tehran, Ashton said: "What I saw today was energy and determination to try and move forward in our talks."
"Many things go from that. But this was a first meeting in order to establish how we would work together. I don't add any more to it than that," Ashton added.
Zarif, considered a moderate, is representing Iran's new centrist president, Hassan Rohani, who has shown an apparent desire to take a more conciliatory approach towards the West since taking office last month. Zarif was a key member of Rohani's negotiating team with the EU in 2003-2005.
The P5+1 has been planning to meet on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York on Thursday.
Ashton said the meeting in New York would be to have "short discussions." She added that the negotiating teams representing the so-called P5+1 and Iran then planned to meet in Geneva in October.
Asked if Zarif had mentioned the possibility of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment as the West has demanded, and whether the negotiating effort could be on the verge of a breakthrough, she said: "We didn't talk about the detail of what we would do."
Ashton added, "The purpose of this meeting was to establish how we would go forward."
"In terms of whether we are on the verge of breakthrough, I would put it like this: I was struck, as I said, by the energy and determination that the foreign minister demonstrated to me," she said.
Iranian media reported on Monday that authorities in Iran have pardoned 80 prisoners ahead of Rohani's visit to the United Nations this week. In a tentative sign that hardline policies are starting to soften
following Rohani's inauguration, authorities freed prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and at least 10 other prisoners last week.
On Monday, judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejei told a news conference that 80 prisoners had been pardoned, including some arrested over protests that followed the disputed re-election of former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
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