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Iranian, U.S. Officials Hold Landmark Direct Nuclear Talks

After presenting its proposal to world powers, Iranian envoy meets one-on-one with U.S. counterpart in Geneva.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 10/16/2013, 3:15 AM

Iranian, P5 1 delegations in Geneva October 15, 2013
Iranian, P5 1 delegations in Geneva October 15, 2013
Reuters

After presenting its proposal to break the deadlock with world powers over its nuclear program, Iran on Tuesday held landmark talks with U.S. officials, reports AFP.

Senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi and his U.S. counterpart Wendy Sherman met Tuesday evening, after a day of P5+1 negotiations in Geneva.

That meeting marked the first direct nuclear talks between the Islamic republic and Washington since 2009.

"The discussion was useful, and we look forward to continuing our discussions in tomorrow's meetings with the full P5+1 and Iran," a senior U.S. State Department official was quoted by AFP as having said after the hour-long meeting.

"It demonstrates our continued commitment to bilateral engagement," the official added, underlining that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama had spoken by telephone during last month's UN General Assembly in New York.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the six powers also met then, accompanied by a landmark two-way meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met one-on-one with Zarif later on Tuesday evening to take stock of the first day of negotiations, officials said.

Earlier Tuesday, Zarif, Araqchi and their team had made an hour-long presentation to the P5+1 - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany. The presentation was given in English, for the first time, and Western diplomats said it had underlined Tehran's new tone.

"The proposal that we have introduced has the capacity to make a breakthrough," Araqchi said afterwards, telling reporters it was "very comprehensive" but that all parties had agreed to keep it under wraps.

He nonetheless indicated what was not on the table, with Iranian state news agency IRNA quoting him as saying that an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing unannounced inspections was not part of the offer.

Iran has drawn other red lines, saying it will not accept any demand to suspend uranium enrichment or ship its stockpiles of purified material abroad.

All sides underscored the positive atmosphere of the revived negotiations under the new administration of Rouhani, though Western negotiators said they were still examining the details of what Iran had put on the table.

Rouhani, seen as more moderate, has pledged transparency on the nuclear program and engagement with the international community to try to get the punishing international sanctions against Iran lifted.

Iran's two-day meeting with the European Union-chaired P5+1 group ends a six-month freeze sparked by its refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for easing sanctions.

Earlier, Zarif said Tehran's plan contained three steps that could settle the long-running nuclear standoff "within a year", with the first achievable "within a month or two, or even less."

Pressed to reveal what Iran had pledged to do, Western officials were tight-lipped.

"We're not going to negotiate this in public or go into the details of what was in their proposal," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that "since the technical conversations and discussions are ongoing, I don't think we'd characterize it as a breakthrough at this stage".

"However, it certainly is positive that there was enough information to have technical discussions," she added.