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Kerry to Join World Powers' Envoys at Iran UN Meeting

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he joins the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany later this week to discuss the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

The meeting, scheduled for Thursday, would be the highest level diplomatic encounter between Washington and Tehran in at least six years. The two countries broke relations more than three decades ago.

The announcement comes after European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she had a "constructive discussion" with Zarif and his British and French counterparts ahead of this week's U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

Iran's Fars news agency has reported the moderate Zarif will lead nuclear talks with world powers, succeeding conservative Saeed Jalili, who had overseen a hardening of Tehran's position.

U.S. officials have said a meeting is also possible on the sidelines of the U.N. assembly between President Barack Obama and Iran's newly elected President Hassan Rouhani. If it happens, it would be the first between U.S. and Iranian government heads since before the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.

President Rouhani Monday urged Western leaders to heed his appeals for greater dialogue and take steps to ease painful economic sanctions as he left for New York to attend the U.N. gathering.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran because of concerns it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The U.S. and its Western allies have imposed even more punishing sanctions which have severely affected Iran's economy and drawn criticism from its citizens.

In Washington, a bipartisan group of top U.S. senators called on Mr. Obama to use his speech Tuesday at the General Assembly to reiterate that the United States will not accept a nuclear-capable Iran and that crippling economic sanctions will continue despite Mr. Rouhani's recent overtures.

Iran denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear activities are designed for peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment.

Iran said Monday it freed 80 prisoners arrested in political crackdowns, a move analysts see as a gesture to further international diplomacy at the U.N. gathering.

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