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September 26, 2013

World Powers, Iran Agree to Resume Nuclear Talks

by Margaret Besheer

Major powers have agreed with Iran to resume talks about its suspect nuclear program next month in Geneva.  

The foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council powers plus Germany met with their Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, late Thursday.

President Hassan Rouhani has designated Minister Zarif as his lead nuclear negotiator.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they had a good and substantive meeting.

“I am pleased that we’ve agreed to meet in Geneva on 15 and 16 of October to pursue the agenda, to carry on from today’s meeting and to hopefully move this process forward," said Ashton.

The October talks will be the first round of substantive negotiations on Iran's nuclear program since April.

Ashton said timetables were discussed.

“We were interested to see that they are all of an ambitious nature.  The question is how far you can go in three months or six months or 12 months.  And 12 months is a good time frame to think about some serious implementation on the ground.  But for me, what really matters now, is that we get down to the detail and actually work out what will happen, when it will happen, how we know it’s happened, how we move forward building confidence as we go to get to that point," she said.

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Iran says its nuclear program is intended to produce nuclear energy for civilian use, but the international community worries Tehran is secretly trying to build nuclear bombs.

Thursday’s meeting was the highest-level direct contact between the United States and Iran in several years as Secretary of State John Kerry sat side-by-side with the Iranian foreign minister.  Although positive about the session, Secretary Kerry was cautious.

"Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone - which was welcome - doesn’t answer those questions yet and there is a lot of work to be done.  So we will engage in that work, obviously, and we hope very, very much, all of us, that we can get concrete results that will answer the outstanding questions regarding the program," said Kerry.

Minister Zarif was also upbeat, saying the discussions were substantive and businesslike.

“We hope to be able to make progress towards resolving this issue in a timely fashion, based on respecting the rights of the Iranian people to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, including enrichment, and at the same time making sure that there is no concern at the international level that Iran’s nuclear program is anything but peaceful," said Zarif.

Minister Zarif said as the process moves forward, sanctions imposed against his country for its nuclear program must be lifted.

Speaking to an audience in New York Thursday evening, President Rouhani addressed the nuclear issue, saying his country is a peaceful one.

“But for the Islamic Republic of Iran, all its activities have been within the safeguards agreement and have continued to be, and will continue to be, under the supervision of the IAEA," said Rouhani.

Iranian officials are set to meet with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Friday.