By GEORGE JAHN and JOHN HEILPRIN
GENEVA — High-stakes nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers adjourned on an upbeat note Wednesday, with the parties agreeing to meet again in Geneva in three weeks. The European Union’s top diplomat called the talks “very important,” and Iran’s foreign minister spoke of a possible “new phase” after a decade of deadlock over fears the Iranians wanted a nuclear bomb.
Few details emerged from the two days of talks, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran’s proposals contained a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before.” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton read a statement endorsed by both Iran and the six powers, calling the talks “substantive and forward looking.”
She said the two sides will meet again in Geneva on Nov. 7-8 and a panel of experts would convene beforehand to discuss technical issues — all suggesting an element of progress on an issue that has threatened a new war in the Middle East. Both U.S. and Israeli officials have declared they would never accept a nuclear-armed Iran — even though Tehran has long insisted it is not interested in building a bomb.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who headed the Iranian side, said he hoped the results achieved over two days of talks ending Wednesday “will hopefully be the beginning of a new phase” in relations between Iran and the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
“We have reached a serious stage in the talks,” he told reporters.
The lack of immediate details on what was achieved, however, made it difficult to evaluate the amount of progress made in what has been a decade of deadlocked negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran’s proposal Tuesday to the six powers focused on their demands that Iran’s uranium enrichment program and other activities that could be used to make nuclear arms be stopped or reduced.
Iran wants painful international sanctions to be lifted in exchange for possible concessions it had been previously unwilling to consider. Those could be increased international monitoring of its nuclear program and the scaling back of its uranium enrichment plans — a potential pathway to nuclear arms and the centerpiece of its impasse with the West.
Despite Tehran’s insistence it has no interest in weapons production, the Iranians have resisted both enticements and sanctions from world powers designed to force them into ending uranium enrichment and other activities that could be used to make weapons.
But negotiations now appear to be driven by the new wind generated since reformist President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June.
A member of one of the delegations at the talks said the new Iranian plan offered reductions in both the levels of uranium enrichment being conducted by Iran and the number of centrifuges doing the enrichment — a key demand of the six powers.
An Iranian official said any plan would be implemented in three stages, lasting from six months to a year.
Both men demanded anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the confidential plan.
Iranian state TV, which closely reflects government views, said Tehran offered to discuss uranium enrichment levels. The report also said Iran proposed adopting the additional protocols of the U.N.’s nuclear treaty — effectively opening its nuclear facilities to wider inspection and monitoring — if the West recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
But the Iranian official said any acceptance of the protocols would be one of the last steps in implementing the plan.