27 Sep 2013

Iran agrees to fast-track nuclear programme talks

Iran says it has agreed to fast-track nuclear negotiations, with the hope of reaching a deal within a year. But Iran’s nuclear envoy plays down prospects of a breakthrough at talks on Friday.

Hassan Rouhani (G)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country was eager to dispel suspicions that it was trying to develop a nuclear weapon and to get punishing international sanctions lifted as fast as possible.

This is the first meeting so nobody I guess should expect that in just (a) one-day meeting we can solve (our) problems – Reza Najafi

However, Reza Najafi, Iran’s envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), played down the prospects of a quick breakthrough in talks with the agency on a stalled investigation into Tehran’s disputed atomic programme.

Mr Najafi was asked by reporters whether he expected an agreement in discussions due to start on Friday.

Read more: Hassan Rouhani tells UN - 'Peace is within reach'

The meeting between Iran and the IAEA will be the first since Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, took office as new Iranian president in early August, pledging to try to resolve the Islamic state’s nuclear dispute with the west.

It comes after talks between Iran and world powers at the United Nations on Thursday.

“This is the first meeting so nobody I guess should expect that in just (a) one-day meeting we can solve (our) problems,” said Mr Najafi.

“We are going to have a first meeting with the agency. We expect to review the existing issues and also exchange views on the ways we can continue our cooperation to resolve all issues.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry also urged caution.

He said: “The United States is not going to lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is going be doing with.”

Substantive talks

Iran and the United States held their highest-level substantive talks in a generation at the United Nations, saying the tone was positive but sounding cautious about resolving the standoff.

Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif met after the Iranian foreign minister held wider talks with the United States and other major powers to address western suspicions that Iran may be trying to develop atomic weapons.

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Separately from big power diplomacy to resolve the decade-old dispute that could yet trigger a Middle East war, the IAEA has held 10 rounds of talks with Iran since early 2012 to try to resume a blocked inquiry into suspected atom bomb research.

The talks have so far yielded no results but western states see Friday’s meeting in Vienna as a litmus test of any substantive Iranian shift from its intransigence under Mr Rouhani’s hardline conservative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran denies it is seeking to develop the capability make nuclear weapons, saying its programme is a peaceful bid to generate electricity.