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Scores Of Iranian Prisoners Pardoned As Rohani Heads To UN

Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will both be attending the UN General Assembly this week.

An Iranian official has said that Tehran has pardoned 80 political prisoners.

Judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejei said on September 23 that authorities have pardoned the 80 prisoners, including some arrested in connection with protests after the disputed reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

There has been no indication that the prisoners have been released from custody.

The announcement came hours after Iranian President Hassan Rohani departed for New York to participate in the annual UN General Assembly meeting this week.

Also on September 23, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will hold talks with representatives of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in New York during the UN General Assembly session.

She made the announcement to journalists after meeting with Zarif in New York.

"This was our first opportunity to meet face to face," Ashton said. "We talked about a number of important issues, but focused on the nuclear issues. We had a good and constructive discussion."

Ashton indicated that Zarif's meeting with the Security Council representatives, which is likely to happen on September 26, will be brief.

"We didn't talk about the detail of what we would do," she said. "The purpose of this meeting was to establish how we would go forward."

In Washington, the State Department said that the United States will work with Rohani if his government seriously engages in attempts to resolve the long-running standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki confirmed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Zarif, along with other representatives of the UN Security Council permanent members.

But two senior U.S. lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to stand firm in dealing with Iran.

In a letter issued on September 23, Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) and Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) urged Obama to restate Washington's position that it will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

Rohani announced on September 22 that Zarif will head Iran's delegation to the international nuclear talks.

The United States and other countries accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Tehran maintains its program is entirely peaceful.

Rohani is seen as pushing key Western nations toward restarting stalled talks over Tehran's nuclear program.

He said on September 22, that during his visit to the UN General Assembly, he will "present the true face of Iran."

The prisoner release has reinforced the impression that Rohani has backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to seek better relations with the West.

Tehran released a dozen prominent political prisoners last week, but the two main opposition leaders -- Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi -- are still under house arrest.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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