Iran's new government began its first talks on its nuclear program with the United States and five other world powers on Thursday, with the Iranian foreign minister taking a seat next to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a rare high-level contact between the two long-estranged nations, Reuters reported.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went into talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly with Kerry as well as counterparts from Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany at a session aimed at jump-starting efforts to resolve a decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
It was a very uncommon encounter between top officials of the United States and Iran, which have been estranged since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. Thursday's meeting was the first between a U.S. secretary of state and an Iranian foreign minister since a brief encounter in May 2007.
Ahead of the talks, Kerry said he looked forward to a "good meeting" - the first involving the newly elected Iranian government of centrist President Hassan Rouhani - but would not specify what Iran should do to show a genuine desire to address concerns about its nuclear program.
A senior U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States did not expect any issues to be resolved at the meeting, but added: "We are hopeful that we can continue to chart a path forward.
"We hope that this new Iranian government will show that it is prepared to engage substantively to address these long- standing concerns and we will see today and in months ahead whether they will follow words with action," the official said.
Zarif is a U.S.-educated diplomat appointed by Rouhani to head negotiations on the nuclear issue with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1.
A moderate cleric, Rouhani has stepped up efforts to moderate Iran's image abroad during his visit to New York this week. He has said that Iran would never develop nuclear weapons - despite Western suspicions that it is seeking to do so - and called for a nuclear deal in three to six months. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes only.
Even without making any real concessions so far, Rouhani has offered a softer, more reasonable tone than his stridently anti-U.S. predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Addressing a U.N. meeting on nuclear disarmament on Thursday, Rouhani said: "No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons."
But Rouhani also seized the opportunity to take a swipe at Iran's arch-foe Israel, which has accused him of trying to fool the world and buy time to continue its nuclear advances.
Rouhani said Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state, was the reason for the failure of international efforts to establish the region as a nuclear weapons-free zone.
Follow us on Twitter @TRENDNewsAgency