US, Iranian officials meet in Geneva

Senior US, Iranian offic

jalili solana 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
jalili solana 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
A senior US official met Iran's top atomic negotiator for face-to-face talks on Thursday - the first such encounter in years of big-power attempts to persuade Teheran to freeze a program that could create nuclear weapons. While diplomats and officials disclosed no details of the meeting, they appeared to be concrete proof of President Barack Obama's commitment to engage Iran directly on nuclear and other issues, in a sharp break with the previous Bush administration. More broadly, the meeting suggested the Obama administration was putting its concept of US foreign policy into action, with its emphasis on negotiating even with the nations most hostile to the United States. The change in approach may go down well with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who on Wednesday made pointed comments about other nations needing to respect Iran's rights. Iran-US bilateral talks have been extremely rare since the two nations broke diplomatic relations nearly 30 years ago, following the Iran's Islamic revolution and the ensuing US Embassy hostage crisis. US and Iranian negotiators met in Baghdad two years ago to discuss Iraq. But those were three-way talks, hosted by Iraq. "On the margins of the meeting, Undersecretary (William) Burns, who is heading our delegation, met with his Iranian counterpart," US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters. Wood said Burns used the meeting with chief Iranian delegate Saeed Jalili "to reiterate the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program. "He addressed the need for Iran to take concrete and practical steps that are consistent with its international obligations and that will build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program. "While the focus of the discussion was on Iran's nuclear program, both sides had a frank exchange on other issues, including human rights," said Wood. Two Western diplomats separately told The Associated Press that Burns and top Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili discussed issues during a lunch break at Thursday's seven-nation talks in Geneva. The diplomats, who were briefed on the meeting, demanded anonymity for discussing the confidential information. On a visit to UN headquarters in New York Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that Iran was willing to cooperate further by sending higher-ranking officials to talks with the West. He reiterated that while the Islamic Republic would agree to attend a summit on a range of security, economic and political subject, Iran's nuclear rights would not be up for discussion. Though held at the same venue, the bilateral talks were formally outside of the main meeting in Geneva - talks where the US and five other world powers hope to persuade Iran to at least consider discussing its nuclear program, and in particular its refusal to freeze its uranium enrichment efforts. The fact that the Geneva meeting is taking place at all offers some hope, reflecting both sides' desire to talk, despite a spike in tensions over last week's revelations by Iran that it had been secretly building a new uranium enrichment plant and recent tests of its long-range missiles. While the West fears that Iran's nuclear program aims to make a bomb - and that the country is developing missiles to carry nuclear warheads - Iran insists the program is strictly for peaceful use and has refused to negotiate any limits on it.