New York City (AFP) – With the eyes of the world upon them, the United States and Iran will Thursday have one of their highest-level meetings since the 1979 revolution as their foreign ministers join talks on Tehran’s suspect nuclear program.
And while officials are saying that no bilateral talks are planned between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, there remains the chance for a quick tete-a-tete in the corridor.
Zarif will be the first Iranian foreign minister to sit down with his counterparts from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.
The Iranian delegation will only join part of the talks being hosted by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton however, and no-one is keen to raise hopes of a breakthrough in the dragging negotiations.
Indeed the encounter with European, Russian and Chinese foreign ministers is set to be brief.
It comes after speculation that Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani would meet or at least shake hands with President Barack Obama at the United Nations fizzled out.
But diplomats say Thursday’s meeting will give them the first chance to take the measure of the new Iranian leadership which took office in August.
And they insist it will give the Iranians the opportunity to prove there is some substance behind Rouhani’s charm offensive, and his claims that Iran is only seeking to pursue a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program.
Ashton, who has led Western efforts to engage with Tehran, said this week she was “struck by the energy and determination” of Zarif.
But “as you would appreciate, there is a huge amount of work to do,” she added.
The international powers made a new proposal to Tehran this year, before Rouhani’s election, believed to offer some relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy in return for a scaling back of its uranium enrichment.
“There’s a sense that we never actually got a firm response or a detailed response to that,” a senior U.S. official said.
One Western diplomat said however that “while we are sensitive to signals there isn’t the slightest overture, it’s the same old speech.”
“We told him that there is an offer on the table, and that if you have an offer we’ll look at it carefully,” the diplomat said.
“If the Iranians say they want a new round of talks as they have something serious to propose, we’ll accept. If there is the slightest opportunity we’ll take it.”
For his part Zarif said on his Twitter account from New York: “We have a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue,” if world powers adjust to the “new Iranian approach.”