In a major diplomatic breakthrough, the foreign ministers of United States and Iran will hold talks on Tehran's controversial nuclear drive at a landmark meeting on Thursday - the first between the two arch rivals in more than 30 years.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will join counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia at the meeting at the United Nations headquarters, US officials said yesterday.
Moreover, White House officials have not altogether ruled out the possibility of a meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. "We are open to engagement with the Iranian government at a variety of levels provided that they will follow through on their commitments to address the international community's concerns over their nuclear program," US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in New York yesterday.
"Kerry will be meeting with his P5-plus-1 counterparts as well as the Iranian foreign minister, so that's an opportunity for us to reaffirm, together with our P5-plus-1 partners, the importance of Iran coming in line with international obligations," he said. "But we have no meeting scheduled with President Rouhani, though, as you've heard us say repeatedly, we don't rule out that type of engagement," said Rhodes.
High-level contacts between Iranian and US officials have been rare since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Thursday's meeting will be a milestone in diplomatic relations between the two sides since the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the Western-backed Shah regime.
The US, which has spearheaded an international drive to cut Iran's oil exports, has insisted it will not lift sanctions without progress in talks over nuclear programme, which America fears may lead to development of atomic weapons. "We have had a very carefully structured policy both in terms of the sanctions that we put in place on Iran and in terms of how we engage with the Iranian government and the international community on this issue. So this is something that we will, of course, continue to pay very careful attention to," Rhodes said.
Obama has said since 2007 that he's willing to engage the leaders of Iran in pursuit of an agreement.