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CHANGE IN TONE
Rouhani said in New York last month that he wanted a deal with the P5+1 within three to six months. Zarif played down expectations that an agreement would be reached this week.
“Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward,” he said on his Facebook page late on Sunday. “I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution.
“But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level,” he said.
The U.S. official said the Obama administration was encouraged that Rouhani, who avoids the strident anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had a mandate to “pursue a more moderate course”.
But Tehran must be put to the test, he added.
“That is what we will be doing over the coming days,” the official said, noting that “no one is naive about the challenges we face about pursuing the diplomatic path.”
“We need to see concrete verifiable actions,” the official said. “We go into these meetings clear-eyed that we have very, very, very difficult work to do.
“We are going to make judgements based on actions of the Iranian government, not simply its words, although we appreciate the change in its tone,” the official added.
Backing up those words, 10 Democratic and Republican U.S. senators said on Monday they were open to suspending the implementation of new U.S. sanctions, but only if Tehran takes significant steps to slow its nuclear programme.
The U.S. official said Washington had three priorities regarding Iranian assurances about its nuclear programme: Tehran must take steps on the production of nuclear and related material, ensure transparency of the programme and take steps regarding its stockpile of nuclear material.
In the past, the six powers have demanded, among other things, that Iran halt uranium enrichment, particularly to 20 percent fissile purity, move stockpiles of enriched uranium out of the country and close down the Fordow enrichment plant, buried inside a mountain south of Tehran.
Iran on Sunday rejected the demand that it send enriched uranium abroad but signalled flexibility on other items.
Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only state with atomic weapons, has warned the West not to ease sanctions before Tehran has addressed fears about its nuclear ambitions.
An Israeli official said on Saturday Netanyahu had phoned British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande to tell them sanctions were close to achieving their goal.