UNITED NATIONS — U.S. and European diplomats welcomed a "significant shift" in Iran's attitude at talks on Thursday aimed at resolving the impasse over Tehran's disputed nuclear activities. Iran said it was eager to dispel the notion that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon and to get international sanctions lifted as fast as possible.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shook hands and sat next to each other at the meeting with five other world powers. Kerry leaned over to Zarif as the meeting was ending and said: "Shall we talk for a few minutes." They then had an unexpected one-on-one meeting.
It was the highest-level direct contact between the United States and Iran in six years.
Zarif said the meeting with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany agreed to fast-track negotiations. He said Iran hopes they can reach a deal within a year.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also said the parties had agreed to "go forward with an ambitious timeframe."
They also agreed to hold a new round of substantive talks on Oct. 15-16 in Geneva.
"We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game ... and move toward finalizing it hopefully within a year's time," Zarif said after the talks ended. "I thought I was too ambitious, bordering on naiveté. But I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster."
Kerry said he was struck by the "very different tone" from Iran. But, like his European colleagues, he stressed that a single meeting was not enough to assuage international concerns that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.
"Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, that was welcome, does not answer those questions," Kerry told reporters. "All of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today and that he did put some possibilities on the table."
He said they agree to continue the process and try to find concrete ways to answer the questions that people have about Iran's nuclear activities.
A senior U.S. official said that in the one-on-one meeting, aides from both sides chatted in a marked departure from past encounters, when the Iranians were tight-lipped. It was one of the signs of a new attitude, though what it means remains to be seen, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The official also said Zarif presented a number of ideas — many that had come up before — but they were not particularly detailed. The Americans asked Zarif to come back at the Geneva round or earlier with some more detailed proposals.
At a separate forum across the city, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this government is ready to work with the world powers and others "with a view to ensuring full transparency under international law surrounding our nuclear program."
"My government is prepared to leave no stone unturned in seeking for a mutually acceptable solution," Rouhani said.
Zarif said the end result would have to include "a total lifting" of the international sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy.
"We hope ... to make sure (there is) no concern that Iran's program is anything but peaceful," he said. "Now we have to see whether we can match our positive words with serious deeds so we can move forward."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there had been a "big improvement in the tone and spirit" from Iran compared with the previous government under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
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