White House officials are describing Saturday's talks in Istanbul between the P5+1 group of nations and Iran as constructive. But officials say that in future discussions, Iran must take concrete steps to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Officials with U.S. President Barack Obama, who is attending the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks in Istanbul, are using the same description of Saturday's talks with Iran.
Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, called the discussions a "positive first step" and said the agreement for the next meeting in May is an additional positive sign.
Rhodes said the P5+1 was unified in sending a clear message that Iran needs to demonstrate peaceful intent, and reaffirmed that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty needs to be the foundation of the relationship between Iran and the international community.
Saying there was a "seriousness of purpose by the Iranians and the international community" Rhodes indicated the United States was pleased with the outcome. "This is obviously not the type of issue that you resolve in one meeting but we believe that we have set a course whereby we can give diplomacy a very serious and firm commitment as we seek to resolve this longstanding issue," he said.
Journalists asked about the report that the U.S. had sought a bilateral meeting with Iran in Istanbul, one that Iran declined.
Rhodes said the U.S. was not "particularly seeking" such a meeting, but has always indicated it is open to this. He said the U.S. representative, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, was fully able to communicate directly to the Iranians within the P5+1 context.
Reporters also asked what message Israel should take from Saturday's discussions. Rhodes said the U.S. and Israel have communicated "a sense of urgency," that time is not unlimited, and stressed the need for concrete confidence-building steps by Iran. "We want to see concrete steps taken by the Iranians to demonstrate that their program is peaceful. We have indicated along with the P5+1 that we would be open to a step-by-step process and reciprocal action if the Iranians demonstrate that seriousness," he said.
Rhodes declined to characterize what the P5+1 group heard from the Iranian side. Iran's government, he said, is concerned about escalating international sanctions, including a European Union oil embargo set to take hold in July.
The White House official said the message to Iran is that the sanctions will move forward unless Iran comes in line with its international obligations.