Key Diplomat Confirms Plan to Huddle with Iran on Atomic Talks Timing

National Journal

WASHINGTON -- A key leader for multilateral talks on Iran's nuclear program on Friday confirmed she would meet with the Middle Eastern nation's top diplomat at the United Nations, where they could agree on when to schedule a new meeting with six major governments.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters in Lithuania that she plans to meet with Iran’s top diplomat at the U.N. General Assembly, which is slated to convene in New York on Sept. 17.  That encounter could lay the groundwork for a larger international meeting aimed at clearing up fears that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capacity under the guise of a peaceful atomic effort.

"We have dates that we have available," said Ashton, who has communicated with Iran on behalf of six nations that have participated in atomic meetings with the Persian Gulf power. "We are ready to come very quickly to talks, and I hope that when we meet in New York, we’ll have the opportunity to set dates there and then."

A new multilateral nuclear discussion would be the first to take place since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office last month, pledging to resolve the nuclear dispute that has placed Iran under increasingly harsh sanctions and threats of attack.

Iranian diplomats have participated in years of discussions with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany, but the sides have yet to reach any deal to assure world powers of Tehran's peaceful nuclear intentions.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif assumed new importance in the diplomatic process on Thursday, when Rouhani assigned his ministry direct responsibility for the negotiations.

Addressing the transfer of authority during a question-and-answer session with reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Ashton recounted telling Zarif that she "was encouraged to hear that we know where the [Iranian] interlocutor will be from."

She added, though, that she does not yet know "who the interlocutor will be."

"That’s an issue that I want to talk with the foreign minister about," she said. "He and I have already established rapport. He will play an important role in the relationship between the European Union and Iran, but it remains to be seen … exactly what the formulation will be for the talks themselves."

"My colleagues in the [P-5+1] are ready" to pursue further dialogue with Tehran, she said. "We’ve got some good proposals on the table, we are always willing to listen to good proposals from Iran, but we really want to move now quickly to resolve this.”

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