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EU's Top Diplomat Praises 'Substantive' Iran Nuclear Talks


Catherine Ashton (left), the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pose for reporters.
Talks between Iran and six world powers on Tehran's controversial nuclear program have ended on an upbeat note, with the European Union's top diplomat calling them "substantive" and "very important."

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign-policy chief, said on October 16 at the end of the two-day talks in Geneva that the next high-level meeting will be in Geneva on November 7 and 8.

Ashton, who is leading talks with Iran on behalf of world powers, said the two sides had agreed that "nuclear, scientific, and sanctions experts will convene before the next meeting to address differences and to develop practical steps."

Ashton was reading from an unprecedented joint statement that Iran and the international powers had agreed upon during this week's talks.

She said that the P5+1 group views Iran's new nuclear proposal as an "important contribution." The P5+1 is made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China -- plus Germany.

Ashton said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif "presented an outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiation, which has been carefully considered by the [P5+1] as an important contribution. Members of delegations followed with in-depth bilateral and joint consultations on various elements of the approach."

She said the two sides had agreed not to reveal details of their discussions.

Iran's Zarif said he hoped the talks would lead to the "beginning of a new phase in our relations" and would help resolve "an unnecessary crisis."

Iran consistently denies Western charges that it is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability, but now it appears willing to make concessions on its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international economic sanctions.

The Iranian plan is reportedly divided into three stages and includes a scaling back of the country's uranium-enrichment program -- a key demand of the six powers, who suspect the ultimate goal of Iran's nuclear program is an atomic weapon.

Earlier on October 16, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, Iran's top negotiator, said the proposal would allow for snap inspections of the Islamic republic's nuclear facilities, though not from the beginning.

Araqchi told the official IRNA news agency that both uranium-enrichment issues and the so-called Additional Protocol to Iran's agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency were part "of our last steps."

"We had a meeting [on October 15] with the American delegation at their request. We went over the issues discussed in the main meetings, and repeated them in a different form," Araqchi told Iran's state-run IRINN television on October 16.

"They had some questions which we answered, and we had some issues, which we raised, about the necessity of a change in approach by the negotiating teams in the delegations."

A senior U.S. administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. delegation had never had such "intense, detailed, straightforward, candid" talks with the Iranian delegation before.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he hoped negotiations will lead soon to concrete results, but that "Iran will need to take the necessary first steps."

Russia's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, welcomed the "unprecedented pace" of negotiations, but warned there was "no reason to break into applause" yet.

Since taking office in August, Iranian President Hassan Rohani has vowed to solve the decade-old nuclear standoff with the international community in six to 12 months.

Change In Tone

While it is too early to assess the outcome of the talks, analysts agree that Tehran has changed both its tone and approach during this week's Geneva meeting.

Mark Fitzpatrick, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says the flow and conduct of the negotiations have changed. "They've been in English, which makes them much faster. They've gotten immediately to the point," he says. "There's [also] not a lot of pontificating and so forth, which was often the case in previous meetings."

Meanwhile, an Israeli minister has expressed concern about possible concessions to Iran by the international community, comparing the situation to prewar Europe and the appeasement of Nazi Germany.

International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli Army radio: "We view the nuclear talks in Geneva with hope and with concern. We see the worrying signs and we don't want Geneva 2013 to turn into Munich 1938."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 15 urged world powers to avoid a partial deal with Tehran that could see a relaxing of sanctions. He also told parliament Israel reserved the right to carry out a unilateral military strike to prevent Iran getting the bomb.
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