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US, Iran hold high-level meeting. 'Substantive' nuclear talks ahead?

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A smiling Zarif made quick mention of his “short bilateral” meeting with Kerry. Eschewing the more typical combative and accusatory tone of Iran’s diplomatic language over past decades – particularly in reference to the US – Zarif said, “Now we [all] have to see if we can match our positive words with serious deeds.”

The six countries agreed to meet in Geneva on Oct. 15-16 for what would be the first talks on Iran’s nuclear program since April. Those meetings, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ended without Iran even responding to negotiation starting points proposed by the European Union’s chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton.

Lady Ashton, who chaired Thursday’s meeting, echoed other officials in describing a totally different atmosphere in the discussions with Zarif. “To have the Iranian minister openly talk was a positive change in itself,” she said.

Ashton said the discussion included talk of an “ambitious timeframe” for moving from negotiations to agreement to “implementation on the ground.” She added that she has discussed a number of “timeframes” with President Rouhani when she met with him Thursday morning, and they were “all of an ambitious nature.”

Iran is anxious to see a lifting of the onerous international sanctions the Security Council has imposed over the country’s expanding nuclear program, which Western powers believe is aimed at building a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear activities are limited to peaceful purposes.

Zarif has spoken of achieving an accord within six months, and most recently has floated the idea of a incremental accord under which Iran’s phased-in steps to meet international concerns would be matched by a progressive lifting of economic sanctions.  

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