U.S.-Iran talks mark first high-level, face-to-face meeting in 30-plus years

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 10:19am

It's been more than 30 years since high-level officials from the United States and Iran sat down together to talk face-to-face.

If everything holds, that string ends Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are scheduled to meet Thursday in New York as part of a meeting between the Middle Eastern country and the six world powers trying to tackle international concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

Such a high-level meeting involving the United States and Iran hasn't happened since Iran's 1979 revolution, which sent relations between the two into a deep freeze.

But the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, widely seen as more moderate than his predecessor, seems to have opened the possibility of a thaw in relations.

That has prompted President Barack Obama to dispatch Kerry to seek a nuclear deal with Iran. At the United Nations on Thursday, Rouhani called for an end to nuclear weapons.

"As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist," said Rouhani, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on Thursday. "The only absolute guarantee is their total elimination."

The United States and other world powers have long said they believe Iran wants nuclear weapons. Iran has said it only wants to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

In his remarks Thursday, Rouhani said Iran would be willing to live under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards against nuclear weapons, but scolded Israel for not signing on to international nuclear non-profileration agreements.

"Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay. Accordingly, all nuclear activities in the region should be subject to the IAEA comprehensive safeguards," he said.

"The international community has to redouble its efforts in support of the establishment of this zone. This would constitute a contribution to the objective of nuclear disarmament."

Israel has never acknowledged having nuclear weapons but is widely believed to possess them.

Israeli officials fear Iranian nuclear weapons pose a direct threat to their security, especially after years of bellicose rhetoric from the previous Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

While Rouhani's tone has been different -- he recently wished Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah through his official Twitter account and on Wednesday acknowledged the reality of the Holocaust in Western media interviews -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that he's not yet sold on Iran's seemingly more moderate tone.

"Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said in a video statement released Tuesday on his Facebook page. "But we will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran's continual pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the world should not be fooled, either."


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