GENEVA, Oct 14 (Reuters) - The United States held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief for Iran on Monday if Tehran moves swiftly to allay concerns about its nuclear programme, although both countries said any deal would be complex and take time.
Six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - hold talks with Iran on its nuclear programme in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“No one should expect a breakthrough overnight,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters.
Washington is ready to offer Iran rapid relief from economic sanctions if Tehran moves quickly to address concerns that the ultimate goal of its nuclear work was to make bombs, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Any potential sanctions relief, the official said, would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table”. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.
“I’m sure they will disagree about what is proportionate,” the official said. “But we are quite clear about what the menu of options are and what will match what.”
On the eve of the talks, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the so-called “P5+1” nations in negotiations, had dinner with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said Tehran would put its case on Tuesday.
“We had a good dinner,” Zarif told Reuters as he returned to his hotel after the two-hour dinner at the Iranian diplomatic residence in Geneva.
When asked if he had given Ashton details of an Iranian proposal, he responded: “Proposal is for tomorrow.”
In a hint that Washington is seriously considering easing sanctions, the U.S. delegation at the talks includes one of its leading sanctions experts - Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The European Union’s top sanctions official has also joined the bloc’s delegation at the talks.
Since 2006, Iran has rejected U.N. Security Council demands that it halt uranium enrichment and has continued to expand its nuclear fuel programme, leading to increasingly harsh sanctions.
This week’s meeting follows the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who says he wants to thaw Iran’s icy relations with the West to secure the removal of punitive sanctions that have hobbled its oil-based economy.
Foreign ministers from the P5+1 - including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - met with their Iranian counterpart, Zarif, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month when they announced the plan for this week’s meeting.
A day after the Kerry-Zarif meeting, President Barack Obama and Rouhani spoke by telephone, the highest level U.S.-Iranian contact since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979. Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.