Kerry Meets Iranian Foreign Minister For Nuclear Talks

Another round of talks on Iran's suspect nuclear program took place Thursday, this one at the United Nations and, for the first time, at the ministerial level. Secretary of State Kerry and Iran's new Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, will be among those in attendance along with their counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Germany. No breakthroughs are anticipated in New York but the talks are expected to reconvene a week or so later in Geneva in search of an accord.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

At the United Nations today, a rare diplomatic encounter. Secretary of State John Kerry took part in a meeting that included his counterpart from Iran. Iran's new president has said that his country is ready to negotiate a deal to clear up questions about its nuclear program, and he wants to do that quickly.

The U.S. and its European partners are trying to test that proposition. Today's meeting was organized by the European Union representative, Catherine Ashton.

CATHERINE ASHTON: It was a substantial meeting, good atmosphere, energetic. We had a discussion about how we would go forward with an ambitious timeframe to see whether we can make progress quickly.

SIEGEL: Well, to bring us up to date, we're joined now by NPR's Michele Kelemen, who's at the U.N. Michele, we heard the mention of an ambitious timeframe. What is that timeframe?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, that's right. I mean, the first thing that Catherine Ashton is talking about is a meeting within three weeks, at the working level, to start these negotiations. She said that, you know, the European Union and the other players in this had put forward some ideas. Iran might put forward some ideas before, that but that meeting is when things really get started.

The Iranians have been talking about a very short timeframe, between three to six months. She seemed to suggest that 12 months is going to be more realistic. But everyone's working with a quick, you know, months not years in timeframe here.

SIEGEL: Catherine Ashton sounded pretty upbeat. What do you know about contacts between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart?

KELEMEN: Well, his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, came out and said that it was substantive and business-like and said that he did, at the end of this, have a one-on-one bilateral, small conversation with Secretary Kerry. We're told also that the two men sat next to each other during the session.

Secretary Kerry came out saying, you know, there's obviously been a welcome change in tone. But he said one meeting and a change of tone doesn't answer all of the questions that the U.S. and its partners have about Iran's nuclear program.

SIEGEL: Now, in addition to Iran, the Security Council has Syria on its plate. Kerry has said that he wanted a resolution this week to enforce a deal to rid Syria of chemical weapons. Does it look like it's going to happen?

KELEMEN: It does. And the State Department is calling this historic because, as you know, Robert, the Security Council has been in complete paralysis when it comes to Syria for two and a half years, not passing any resolutions. And tonight, they're going to be circulating a draft resolution that at least enforces this idea that the U.S. and Russians hammered out of getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons.

SIEGEL: It enforces that with the threat of force behind it or not?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, the language that they ended up with is going to say, it's going to decide that Syria shall do this. And if it doesn't comply, there will be consequences considered under Chapter 7, and that's the U.N. - part of the U.N. charter that talks about military action or economic sanctions. But, Robert, I have to say, this - none of this is going to be automatic. What they're agreeing to is coming back to the Security Council to talk about such measures in the future if there's non-compliance. There's going to be no automatic trigger here. That's something the Russians insisted on.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Michele Kelemen at the United Nations in New York. Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Robert.

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