Washington and Tehran were upbeat after Iran agreed to hold fresh nuclear talks with world powers next month and made a “breakthrough” proposal to allow spot checks on its nuclear sites.
After two days of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, Iran on Wednesday said it was hopeful for a “new phase in our relations” with the international community, while the White House said Iran had shown a greater level of “seriousness and substance” than ever before.
Germany was also positive, saying the latest talks had boosted hopes for a diplomatic solution, but a wary Russia warned there was “no reason to break into applause.”
Iran’s archrival Israel — the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power — insisted Tehran should be judged by its actions. EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton told reporters the next meeting would convene in the Swiss city on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8.
She read from what she underlined was an unprecedented joint statement agreed with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif and herself as chair of the international negotiating team.
The EU is at the helm of the so-called P5+1 group — comprised of Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany — which has spent years trying to reach a deal with Iran amid fears that it is developing nuclear weapons.
The Islamic republic vehemently denies that and insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The statement said the Geneva talks were “substantive and forward-looking,” calling Iran’s plan a “proposed basis for negotiation.”
The talks were the first between all parties’ nuclear negotiators since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a relative moderate, succeeded conservative former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.
They ended a six-month freeze over Iran’s refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for easing the international sanctions battering its economy.
Amid signs of a thaw with the international community, Rouhani has pledged transparency on the nuclear program and engagement with major powers to try to remove the sanctions.
“We hope that this a beginning of a new phase in our relations,” Zarif told reporters.
While the details remain under wraps, lead Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said its proposal involved “proportionate and reciprocal steps by both sides.”
After Iran’s team gave an hour-long presentation on Tuesday in English — a first in the nuclear talks — Araqchi said the proposal had the “capacity to make a breakthrough.”
Iran’s plan contains three steps that could settle the nuclear dispute “within a year,” Araqchi has said, the first of which is achievable “within a month or two, or even less.”
He said that snap inspections of Iran’s atomic facilities were part of the last step.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran’s presentation at the talks was “useful,” showing a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before.”
However, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki cautioned that “a great deal more work that needs to be done.”
Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov was less than upbeat, saying the sides lacked mutual trust.
Iran has already drawn red lines, saying it will not accept demands to suspend uranium enrichment or ship purified material abroad.
Israeli Minister of International Relations Yuval Steinitz on Wednesday said Jerusalem was watching the talks “with hope and with concern.”
“We see the worrying signs and we don’t want Geneva 2013 to turn into Munich 1938,” he said on Israeli Army radio, referring to Britain and France’s failed bid to avert war by agreeing to Nazi Germany’s annexation of swathes of Czechoslovakia.