U.S.: Talks Intense After Iran Hints at Nuke Concessions

GENEVA (Reuters) -

The United States described two days of nuclear negotiations with Iran as the most serious and candid to date after Western diplomats said Tehran hinted it was ready to scale back sensitive atomic activities to secure urgent sanctions relief.

But a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the conclusion of negotiations between Iran and six world powers that no breakthroughs had been achieved and many disagreements remained. Other Western diplomats involved in the talks said there had been no apparent narrowing of differences between Tehran and the six nations over its nuclear ambitions.

“I’ve been doing this now for about two years,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “And I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before.

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, echoed the remarks, saying Iran’s proposal showed “a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before.” But he cautioned that “no one should expect a breakthrough overnight.”

Washington’s ally Israel, which has told the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — the six powers negotiating with Iran — not to trust Tehran, announced that Prime Minister Binyamin  Netanyahu plans to speak next week with Secretary of State John Kerry about the Geneva talks.

Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly earlier this month that Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, widely seen as a pragmatist and centrist, was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and warned that Israel was prepared to act alone to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.

Follow-up talks between the six powers and Iran will be held in Geneva on November 7-8.

In a rare joint statement highlighting the dramatic shift from confrontation to dialogue since Rouhani took office in August, negotiators from Iran and six world powers said Tehran’s new proposal aimed at defusing longstanding suspicions over the nature of its nuclear program was an “important contribution” now under careful consideration.

Details of Iran’s proposal, presented during two days of negotiations in Geneva, have not been released, and Western officials were unsure whether Tehran was prepared to go far enough to clinch a breakthrough deal.

The joint statement, read out by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “presented an outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiation” and the talks were “substantive and forward-looking,” without elaborating.

Zarif, who is also Iran’s chief negotiator, said Tehran looked to a new era in diplomatic relations after a decade of tension, in which concerns about the Islamic state’s nuclear ambitions fueled fears of a new war in the Middle East.