UNITED NATIONS — Iran’s new foreign minister will meet counterparts from the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany later this week at the U.N. to discuss resuming talks on the protracted dispute over his country’s nuclear program, the European Union’s top foreign policy official said Monday after meeting with the Iranian minister for the first time.
The European official, Catherine Ashton, told reporters at a brief news conference on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly session that in her meeting with the Iranian minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Monday morning, she saw “energy and determination” in his approach but also said, “There’s a huge amount of work to do.”
A meeting between Zarif and the Security Council members, which would include Secretary of State John Kerry, would be one of the highest-level face-to-face contacts between Iran and the U.S. in more than three decades.
Ashton is the lead negotiator for the so-called P5-plus-1 countries - the five permanent Security Council members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S., plus Germany - which have been conducting on-again, off-again negotiations with Iran for years on the nuclear dispute, with no substantive progress.
Zarif is a U.S.-educated diplomat appointed by the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. Both have sought to distinguish themselves from the hard-line approach of the last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They have been outspoken in asserting that Iran is ready to advance the negotiations on the nuclear dispute, which has drawn heavy Western sanctions and left the country increasingly isolated economically.
Iran has asserted that its program of uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes, denying assertions from the West and Israel that it is developing the capability to make nuclear weapons.
The Israeli government, which particularly mistrusts Iran’s nuclear intentions, has dismissed the new Iranian diplomatic effort as a public relations maneuver, and was rattled by an exchange of letters between Rouhani and President Barack Obama that suggested the real possibility of a diplomatic compromise.
Ashton described her discussions with Zarif as constructive, but she provided no details on the substance of the impending meeting with the P5-plus-1 ministers. She described the purpose of her meeting with Zarif as establishing “how we would go forward.”