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Ashton Wants 'Best Atmosphere' for Iran Talks

EU's foreign policy chief says she wants to go to the October 15-16 talks with Iran in Geneva with “the best possible atmosphere.”
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 10/1/2013, 4:15 AM

Catherine Ashton
Catherine Ashton
AFP photo

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Monday she wanted to go to the October 15-16 talks with Iran in Geneva with “the best possible atmosphere.”

Asked whether new sanctions should be imposed on Iran as talks about its nuclear program loom around the corner, Ashton replied, “I am not in the business of telling Congress what to do.”

“I would like to get to Geneva with the best possible atmosphere to really have these negotiations,” she added, referring to the upcoming talks between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

“And that means, in all sorts of ways, we need to show willingness and good faith to sit down and talk and expect the same in return,” she added, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank.

Iran and the six world powers - collectively known as the P5+1 - have met for several rounds of talks on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programs. The last round of talks was held at the start of April in Almaty, Kazakhstan, but failed as did previous rounds.

The United States and its allies suspect that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its nuclear program is solely for peaceful, civilian purposes.

The talks on October 15 will be the first nuclear talks since the election of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who has urged the world to seize the opportunity of his election to resolve the nuclear dispute.

“It may be, at the end of those two days, that we don't make progress. But it may be ... that we do,” Ashton said.

“Pressure is there for a reason: it's to bring people to the talks in order to try and make progress,” she added.

“I want to go to Geneva with that best possible atmosphere,” said Ashton. “In any thinking about that, those who are making the law here or those in control of the negotiations from the U.S. end ... (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry and his team will have to think about how to make sure that it's the best possible atmosphere.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Kerry met in New York last Thursday, as part of a meeting with diplomats from the other P5+1 nations. It was the highest-level meeting between an Iranian official and an American official since 1979.

In another sign that the relations between Iran and the U.S. are improving, Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama held a telephone call last Friday, the first of its kind between an American and Iranian president in more than three decades.

At the same time, the U.S. has warned Iran that its conciliatory remarks must be backed by actions.

Kerry said in an interview Sunday night that Iran could prove its sincerity by immediately opening its nuclear facilities to inspections and keeping its uranium enrichment efforts at lower grades that are not suitable for military use.

"Iran needs to take rapid steps, clear and convincing steps, to live up to the international community's requirements regarding nuclear programs, peaceful nuclear programs," Kerry said.

"Words are not going to replace actions," he stressed. "What we need are actions that prove that we and our allies, our friends in the region, can never be threatened by this program."