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‘ENERGY AND DETERMINATION’
Ashton said she had “a good and constructive discussion” in what was her first face-to-face meeting with Zarif.
Speaking after his talks with Zarif, British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed Iran’s statements that it wants to improve relations with the West and ease concerns about its nuclear program, but he said words alone would not be enough.
“The time is now right for those statements to be matched by concrete steps by Iran to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s intentions and if such steps are taken, then I believe a more constructive relationship can be created between us,” Hague told reporters.
Hague said some such concrete steps had been taken with the release of some political prisoners.
“Of course we urge them down that path and hope it will be possible to take steps across a whole range of issues. If it is, we are willing to reciprocate in many ways.”
Iranian media reported on Monday that authorities in Iran have pardoned 80 prisoners ahead of Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations. In a tentative sign that hardline policies are starting to soften following Rouhani’s inauguration last month, authorities freed prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and at least 10 other prisoners last week.
Asked about the possibility of a relaxation of sanctions on Iran - the desire for which some analysts see as the reason for the more conciliatory approach from the Iranians - Ashton praised Zarif’s “energy and determination to try and move forward in our talks.”
But she said they had not gone into details of the nuclear issue, including the U.N. Security Council’s demand for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.
Zarif wrote on Facebook that his meeting with Ashton was “positive.” He said he explained how it would be possible to “reach a solution based on the rights of the people of Iran and the removal of sanctions.”
Speaking before leaving for New York, Rouhani said he would use his visit to the United Nations to present the “true face of Iran” and to pursue talks and cooperation with the West to end the nuclear dispute.
“Unfortunately in recent years the face of Iran, a great and civilized nation, has been presented in another way,” he said, according to comments on his official website.
“I and my colleagues will take the opportunity to present the true face of Iran as a cultured and peace-loving country.”
Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator under reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, did not make clear who he blames for any distortion of Iran’s image. But the comments suggested he was intent on distancing himself from the outspoken approach to the West adopted by predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani, however, also targeted the West for the suffering caused by its sanctions. He has vowed to improve Iran’s ailing economy, which has suffered deeply from the measures.
Last week, the new president’s tone was endorsed by Iran’s most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who spoke of “heroic flexibility,” suggesting a new willingness to engage in diplomacy with Iran’s adversaries.
Israel, Washington’s closest Middle East ally and thought to be the region’s only nuclear-armed power, is suspicious of Rouhani’s overtures and worries that some Western states may be too eager to relax sanctions without concrete steps by Tehran.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took a similar line to Britain’s Hague ahead of a meeting between French President Francois Hollande and Iran’s president on Tuesday, the first between leaders of the two nations since 2005.
“We have taken note of the positive statements of the new president Rouhani and his government,” Fabius told reporters.
“These meetings will be the occasion to assess the reality of the words being used. Rouhani’s first measures and speeches have shown a certain evolution and it’s not the same tone as his predecessor … all that now has to be put under the microscope of reality.”
In Washington, four senior U.S. senators - two Democrats and two Republicans - urged Obama to keep a tough stance on Iran.
Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Lindsey Graham urged Obama to use his General Assembly speech to restate the U.S. goal of not permitting Iran to develop nuclear weapons. In addition, Democrat Charles Schumer and Republican John McCain urged Obama not to let up on sanctions on Iran.