Iran, U.S. meet as search for nuclear deal intensifies

Sep 04, 2014, 8:09 AM EDT
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a press conference in Tehran on August 31, 2014.

Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks on Thursday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran's atomic activities by a new deadline in late November. Reuters reports:

The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept. 18.

The deadline was extended until Nov. 24 after six months of talks because wide gaps persisted over the future scope of Iran's uranium enrichment program, which can have both civilian and military applications.

The six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain - aim to persuade Iran to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for phasing out sanctions that have severely hurt its oil-dependent economy.

The election last year of President Hassan Rouhani, widely seen as a pragmatist, raised hopes of a settlement of the standoff after years of soaring tension and fears of a new Middle East war, and an interim accord was reached between Iran and the six powers in Geneva late last year.

Iran remains "quite optimistic" it can reach a nuclear deal with six major powers by Nov. 24, the country's foreign minister said Monday, although he criticized the U.S. for imposing new sanctions. The Wall Street Journal writes:

Javad Zarif met with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who chairs the six-power group that negotiates with Iran over its nuclear program.

"We had a good discussion today with her," he said in a news conference after meeting Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. "I am quite optimistic after discussions with Lady Ashton that we can in fact resolve this issue in time."

Mr. Zarif held a two-hour meeting with the EU foreign policy chief followed by a working lunch. He also met with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy Monday morning.

The foreign minister said his talks with Baroness Ashton focused on the time frame for negotiations as well as the issues still to be resolved. The EU didn't provide a readout of the talks. Iranian media said Mr. Zarif will travel to Rome this week and meet Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who will replace Baroness Ashton at the end of October.

Monday's meeting was Mr. Zarif's first face-to-face negotiations with Baroness Ashton since Iran and the six powers failed to reach a final, comprehensive nuclear deal in Vienna in July.