The United States and Iran held their highest level of talks in over 30 years, during which Tehran put "possibilities" on the table to resolve the longstanding dispute over its nuclear programme, even as Washington sounded a cautious note.
US Secretary of State John Kerry described the 'P-5+1 Ministerial on Iran' on Thursday as a "constructive" meeting that opens possibilities of how the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme can be resolved but cautioned that "one meeting" and "change in tone" does not address all concerns over the programme.
Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were joined by the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany.
The countries have agreed to meet again in Geneva in October for the next round of discussions.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that an "ambitious" timeframe of 12 months was being talked about between the leaders "to think about some serious implementation on the ground."
Ties between the US and Iran have been estranged since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"We had a constructive meeting, 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 possibilities of the future," Kerry said after the meeting on Thursday.
He said Iran and the major powers explored the "possibilities of how to proceed based on what President Obama" laid out in his speech to the General Assembly earlier this week.
Following overtures from Iran's President Hassan Rouhani that he has been mandated by his citizens to "pursue a more moderate course", Obama had said in his UNGA address that he would direct Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government hoping that the two sides should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, and conveys confidence that the Iranian programme is peaceful.
“And so we have agreed to try to continue a process that we will try to make concrete, to find a way to answer the questions that people have about Iran's nuclear programme," Kerry said.
"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," Kerry said.
"So we will engage in that work, obviously, and we hope very, very much -- all of us -- that we can get concrete results that will answer the outstanding questions regarding the programme. But I think all of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today, that he did put some possibilities on the table. Now it is up to people to do the hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities could do," Kerry added.
Zarif described the talks as "very good and substantive".
"We agreed to jumpstart the process so we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game and move towards finalising it, hopefully, within a year's time. I thought I was too ambitious, bordering on naivete, but I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to move faster," Zarif said, adding that Kerry was "very positive" and "very committal to leading the process himself on the American side."
Zarif also voiced Rouhani's "commitment to move the process forward."
Ashton described the meeting as "substantial with a 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. I am pleased that we have agreed to meet in Geneva on the 15 and 16 of October, to pursue the agenda, to carry on from today's meeting and to hopefully move this process forward," Ashton said.
Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ' Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters