UNITED NATIONS — Iran's new foreign minister will join talks with six key nations trying to rein in the Islamic Republic's nuclear program later this week at the United Nations, the European Union's foreign policy chief said Monday.
Catherine Ashton, the chief nuclear negotiator, told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that she saw "energy and determination" for talks with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to move forward. Foreign ministers of the six nations are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday.
The meeting between the Western powers and Iran will be the first since April, when discussions on how to reduce fears that Tehran might use its nuclear technology for weapons stalled at a meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The election of Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, considered a relative moderate in Iran's hard-line clerical regime, has sparked speculation about possible movement on the nuclear issue. Rouhani said last month that the foreign ministry — not the Supreme National Security Council — will lead nuclear talks with world powers, a shift away from security officials being in control.
Ashton said she and her team will meet with Zarif again in October to follow up on Thursday's meeting to continue their discussion on reviving long-stalled negotiations.
"We had a good and constructive discussion," she said of her half-hour meeting with Zarif. "We didn't talk about the details of what we would do. The purpose of this meeting was to establish how we would go forward."
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.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, aimed only at producing energy and isotopes for medical use. Rohani told NBC last week that Iran has "never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do so."
Asked if she thought a breakthrough was imminent on restarting negotiations, Ashton replied, "I was struck, as I said, by the energy and determination that the foreign minister demonstrated to me."
"I have worked, I think, very hard to find a way in which we can address this issue of great concern, and I will take every opportunity to try and do that — and I hope this will be one," she said.