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UN meeting on Iran's nuclear program encouraging

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif, right, attend a meeting of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany about Iran's nuclear program on the sidelines of the General Assembly at UN headquarters in Manhattan. (Sept. 26, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

UNITED NATIONS -- The top diplomatic corps for the United States and Iran emerged Thursday from a meeting about Iran's nuclear program with vows to keep talking -- an encouraging move toward a reboot of ties severed long ago.

"The discussions were very substantive," said Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from France, Britain, Russia and China, the five permanent members of the Security Council, and Germany. "I'm satisfied with this first step."

Kerry said after the meeting that he welcomed Iran's apparent "change in tone," but he declined to elaborate on the conversation about the subject at hand: Iran's nuclear program. He added it was gratifying Zarif had "put possibilities on the table."

The exchange between high-level members of the two governments in a congenial, if formal, milieu -- the diplomats reportedly sat close to each other -- ranks among the most significant diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution. The countries' once tight relationship -- rock solid for years with the shah of Iran in power -- literally vanished overnight.

Militant students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 hostages for 444 days. Diplomatic ties have been nonexistent ever since.

Zarif, whose country operates under stringent sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, the United States and other countries, said restrictions would have to be lifted and, eventually, removed entirely as Iran cooperates with nations and endures close inspection of its nuclear program.

He added that he wanted the world to know the program is "nothing but peaceful," and that his government is willing to prove it.

"We believe that sanctions are counterproductive in addition to being not founded in international law," he said to journalists after Kerry addressed them outside the Security Council chamber. "As we move forward there has to be a lifting of sanctions."

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the "tone and spirit of the meeting we've had were very good." Hague praised Zarif for setting an upbeat mood, adding that detailed negotiations would occur within the next three weeks.

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also said the talks were encouraging.

"We are seeking for political and diplomatic solutions, but of course words are not enough," Westerwelle said. "Actions and tangible results is what counts. The devil is in the detail, so it is now important that we have substantial and serious negotiations soon."

Catherine Ashton of the European Union said more talks are scheduled in Geneva, as soon as Oct. 15 or 16. "Certainly it was very interesting for the ministers to be able to talk at ministerial level," she said. "The atmosphere was a very positive one."


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