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New York - Iran proposed carrying out an agreement to address concerns about its nuclear programme within a year at talks with major powers on Thursday, a senior US State Department official said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with his counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States at the United Nations to discuss the nuclear issue and then stepped into a side room for one-one-one talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Zarif made a “thoughtful” presentation about the next steps that Iran and the six powers might take to try to resolve the standoff, which has eluded solution for a decade.
“He made a presentation. It was thoughtful. He laid out what Iran's interests were - their desire to come to an agreement and to do so, fully implemented, in a year's time,” the US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“Not only come to the agreement, but fully implement the agreement in a year's time,” the official added.
“He reassured everyone that Iran does not want nuclear weapons and all of the reasons why it made no sense for them to have them and then laid on the table some ideas that he had about how we should go forward,” the official said.
That 30-minute session was the highest-level official meeting between the United States and Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ushered in a more than three-decade estrangement between the two nations.
Over the last decade, the most salient of the many disputes between the two has been Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and its allies suspect is a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran denies this, saying its programme is for solely peaceful, civilian purposes.
While US and other officials said the wider meeting had a positive tone, they emphasised the challenge of resolving the nuclear dispute and the importance of Iran both making concrete proposals on how to settle it and then implementing any deal.
“It was a useful insight into Iranian interests, thinking, process, what their timeline is, but we will have to sort through this,” the official said.
The United States hopes Iran will offer more detailed ideas before Zarif, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the political directors from the six powers meet in Geneva on October 15 and 16 to follow up, the official said.
“In the two years I have been doing this, no Iranian has sat down and said in such extensive terms here is what we're going to talk about,” the official said of Zarif's presentation. “But again we are still a long way from any agreement.”
The official said the Obama administration would continue to vigorously implement its existing sanctions and favoured working with the US Congress on imposing additional ones.
“We are in conversations with Congress now. We want to make sure we have flexibility for the negotiating track but we have always been a dual-track policy, both engagement and pressure, and that pressure comes through sanctions,” the official said.
Asked what was meant by “flexibility”, the official said this was to ensure that there would be waiver authority or other provisions that would give the administration some latitude on how to implement the sanctions.
“We would hope that anything that goes forward does that as well,” the official said.
“If we can make progress, and it's a big if - I would put that in capital letters, italics and bold - if we can make progress on the negotiating track and the day comes when there are sufficient concrete results on the table to either suspend or ultimately lift sanctions, we want to be able to do so,” the official said.