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No breakthroughs, but ‘substantive’ talks begin over Iran’s nuclear interests

October 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Talks over Iran’s nuclear program wrapped up this evening in Geneva. All sides agreed to meet again.

But, as Ray Suarez reports, there are differing accounts on how much progress is being made.

RAY SUAREZ: The two days of talks in Geneva produced no breakthroughs, and diplomats provided few details.

But a rare joint statement called the meetings substantive and forward-looking. The European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is lead negotiator for the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany.

CATHERINE ASHTON, European Union: We have had the opportunity to talk, as I have already indicated, in much greater detail than ever before, to answer each other’s questions. We’re not going to go into the detail. What I would say is our positions have been set out on a number of issues.

RAY SUAREZ: The chief issues revolve around Iran’s enrichment of nuclear material to purity levels that could make it easy to use in weapons. That activity has led to debilitating sanctions that have crippled the Islamic republic’s economy.

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Today, Iran’s newly named foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said he hopes for an eventual end to what he labeled an unnecessary crisis.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Iranian Foreign Minister: There are more important issues that we need to deal with. And the right of Iran to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, including enrichment, can in fact be exercised with the necessary political will without any proliferation concerns. And that is what we are going to move forward and achieve, in my view.

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said U.S. officials remain wary, but do see reason for some optimism.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: The Iranian proposal was a new proposal with a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before.

Having said that, no one should expect a breakthrough overnight. I mean, these are complicated issues, they’re technical issues. And, as the president has said, the history of mistrust is very deep. The onus remains on Iran to come into compliance with its international obligations.

RAY SUAREZ: The greatest skepticism on the chances of reaching a deal came from Russia.

However, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said there is movement: “The positions of the Iranian side and the group of six powers are wide apart from each other. The distance can be measured in kilometers, while advances forward can be measured in steps, half-a-meter each.”

The next round of talks will be held in just three weeks back in Geneva.