Kerry Vows To Keep Assessing Iran's Nuclear Intentions

Secretary of State Kerry and his counterparts from Britain, France, Russia, China and the European Union met with Iran's foreign minister at the United Nations on Thursday. They left the meeting praising Iran's new tone, but saying there is a lot of work to be done in dealing with Iran's suspect nuclear program. The talks resume in Geneva in mid-October.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. Iran's foreign minister seemed to make a big impression on leading world powers. At the United Nations yesterday he called for a new round of talks over his country's nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry even stayed a bit longer to speak to him one on one - a rarity in U.S./Iranian relations.

Now comes the hard part - trying to turn this new tone into a deal that limits Iran's nuclear ambitions. We'll speak to a journalist in Iran in a moment. First, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on a day of tentative but hopeful diplomatic overtures.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif was all smiles on his old stomping grounds at the U.N.. He was Iran's longtime ambassador here and now he represents a government that is trying to show a moderate face to the world, including on the nuclear issue.

FOREIGN MINISTER JAWAD ZARIF: We hope to be able to make progress towards resolving this issue in a timely fashion based on respecting the rights of the Iranian people to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, including enrichment, and at the same time making sure that there is no concern at the international level that Iran's nuclear program is anything but peaceful.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and its allies believe Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb and have sought to limit Iran's enrichment program. Zarif says Iran wants talks to move quickly and wants to get out from under crushing international sanctions.

ZARIF: As we move forward, there has to be removal of sanctions and in the end game there has to be a total lifting of all sanctions, both bilateral sanctions, unilateral sanctions as well as multilateral sanctions and U.N. sanctions. And we hope to be able to move in that direction within a short span of time.

KELEMEN: Other diplomats weren't raising prospects for that quite yet, but came out of the meeting praising the new Iranian foreign minister. Secretary of State John Kerry described the meeting this way.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: And I think all of us were pleased that Foreign Minister Zarif came and made a presentation to us which was very different in tone and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to the possibilities of the future.

KELEMEN: Kerry says he explored those possibilities a bit further in a one on one meeting and plans to continue to work on ways to clear up questions about Iran's nuclear intentions.

KERRY: Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, which was welcome, doesn't answer those questions yet and there's a lot of work to be done.

KELEMEN: Iranian officials want a deal within three to six months. The EU's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, who organized yesterday's meeting at the U.N., says 12 months might be more realistic.

CATHERINE ASHTON: Like the minister, I am very ambitious for what we can do, but we all know that we have to be very practical in translating political ambition into what does that mean for the effective work that we do on the ground. And that's what we really need to focus on now.

KELEMEN: Ashton and the other diplomats who have been involved in past negotiations with Iran had proposed a set of confidence building steps. The previous Iranian government never responded.

ASHTON: It remains on the table and either the Iranian government can decide to respond directly to that or it can put forward its own proposals.

KELEMEN: She says she's asked them to do that before negotiators meet in Geneva in mid-October. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.

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