Iran willing to hold direct talks with U.S. on sidelines of Geneva conference

The United States and Iran will hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the negotiations between Iran and the Western powers, scheduled for Tuesday in Geneva, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Sunday. Araqchi, who will head the Iranian negotiating team, told the Islamic Republic’s News Agency that it would only be normal to exchange opinions and talk with the United States on the sidelines of the negotiations.

There have not been direct contacts between Iranian and U.S. representatives in earlier rounds of talks over the past four years. The Iranians consistently refused offers to meet directly with U.S. delegation members, while always meeting separately with Russian, Chinese, French, German and British diplomats.

The change in the Iranian stance stems from the warming of relations between the U.S. and Iran, most notably demonstrated in the recenttelephone call between U.S. President Barak Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, and the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif at the United Nations two weeks ago.

Araqchi, speaking to the Iranian press before the talks, said his country would be willing to negotiate the level and amount of uranium enrichment, but would refuse to give up any enriched uranium it already has. He told Iranian TV that “shipping out the [enriched] material is a red line for Iran.”

Araqchi further said that Iran would insist on its right to enrich uranium, but would “address all the fears of the other side,” as to its nuclear program. The student news agency ISNA reported that Araqchi said that the easing of sanctions by the western powers would help build trust. “We’re supposed to be on a path of building trust with the west,” he said. “As far as the west is concerned, that means steps by Iran concerning its nuclear program. From our point of view, trust will be rebuilt when the sanctions are removed.”

According to the Iranian press, Iran will present a three-stage plan at Tuesday’s meeting for ending the crisis over its nuclear program. ISNA reported that Iran would agree to progress only after the powers recognize its right to enrich uranium in the country.

While Araqchi will be the functional head of the Iranian delegation to the talks, its titular head will be Foreign Minister Zarif, who is expected to dine with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday night. Ashton, who will be directing the talks on behalf of the western powers, met on Sunday with Kerry to coordinate the western position prior to the talks.

Zarif will participate in the opening session of the talks on Tuesday morning, but will then leave, entrusting Araqchi to lead the negotiations. The Iranian delegation will be made up of diplomats and experts of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The U,S. delegation is expected to include Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s fourth-ranking official, and Puneet Talwar, senior director for Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States on the White House National Security Staff.

By Haaretz


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