New York - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will both attend a meeting of
the six countries involved in negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme
at the UN, a White House official has said.
The meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) is scheduled to take place Thursday.
Any engagement between Kerry and Zarif during the meeting, would be
the highest-level talks between Washington and Tehran since the 1979
The meeting would be an opportunity for the P5+1 partners to reaffirm
the importance of Iran coming in line with international obligations,
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.
"We welcome Iran engaging seriously through that process, given that
it represents the international community's commitment to holding Iran
accountable, but also being open to a diplomatic resolution."
Rhodes, however, said no meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama
and Iranian President Hassan Rowhani was scheduled during the UN General
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to New York, he said: "We don't rule out that type of engagement."
The White House insisted on Friday that Obama had no plans to meet Rowhani on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
Both leaders are scheduled to speak on Tuesday at UN headquarters in New York.
Speculation has swirled about a possible meeting as Rowhani, who took
office in August, has expressed more willingness to engage with the
West than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rhodes said he did not believe there would be any casual encounter -
such as a handshake - between the two leaders because the U.S. has "a
very carefully structured policy" covering the way the U.S. engages with
the Iranian government.
"I don't think that anything would happen by happenstance on a
relationship and an issue that is that is this important," he said.
Rhodes said the U.S. was "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 programme".
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the U.S. position on Iran
included a willingness to have bilateral conversations and to pursue
negotiations through the P5-plus-1, "commensurate with a willingness by
Iran to be serious about dealing with its nuclear
U.S. senators Charles Schumer, a Democrat, and John McCain, a
Republican, wrote a joint letter to Obama, urging him to keep in place
tough sanctions that have punished Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear
"The Iranians are only expressing openness to diplomacy because they
have been compelled by the crippling consequences of the sanctions,"
the letter said.
Two other U.S. senators urged Obama to take a tough line against Iran in his speech.
Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Lindsey Graham sent a letter
to Obama, urging him to restate the U.S. goal of not permitting Iran to
achieve nuclear weapons capability.
They said Obama should demand verifiable action from Tehran in order to permit the possibility of a diplomatic accord.
"We have taken note of recent diplomatic overtures by Iran. Menendez and Graham said.
"However, whatever nice words we may hear from Mr Rowhani, it is
Iranian action that matters," Menendez and Graham said.