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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Kerry and Zarif unexpectedly resume nuclear talks in Geneva............

GENEVA: US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif held intensive talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme on Wednesday, returning for an evening session, officials said. 

Iran and six world powers have renewed their quest for an elusive nuclear deal -- seen as crucial to reducing the risk of a wider Middle East war -- after negotiators failed for the second time in November to meet a self-imposed deadline. 

Kerry and Zarif "had substantive meetings for approximately five hours today and they discussed a broad range of issues with a small group of staff from each side," a senior State Department official said. 

But Kerry later unexpectedly returned to the Geneva lakeside hotel for a third meeting with Zarif after briefing senior U.S. negotiators ahead of their technical-level talks scheduled with Iranian counterparts for Thursday in the Swiss city. 

Earlier Zarif said that serious dialogue with the West would be easier if it respected Muslim sensitivities, ruffled by the latest Charlie Hebdo cartoons. 

Speaking to reporters before talks began, Zarif said the meeting would help gauge whether both sides were ready to advance toward a deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. 

"I think it's important. I think it will show the readiness of the two parties to move forward and to speed up the process," Zarif told reporters as he waited for Kerry. 

The two men met for about five hours over the course of the day, including a 15-minute joint stroll through downtown Geneva during the afternoon.

 

"We are working hard," Kerry told a journalist during the walkabout, which took them along the Rhone River flowing out of Lake Geneva, according to a U.S. official. 

The Kerry-Zarif sessions precede the resumption of collective discussions involving all seven countries on Jan. 18. 

The sought-after agreement, whose new deadline is June 30, would gradually lift tough financial and trade sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic since 2006 in exchange for verifiable limits on its enrichment of uranium to ensure it cannot be put to developing nuclear weapons. 

The Islamic Republic says it wants only civilian energy from enrichment, denying Western suspicions of a latent bomb agenda. 

Asked if he hoped they could nail down an agreement by July 1, Zarif said: "That's why we are here. We'll see." 

Zarif also sought to explain why Iranians are dismayed by the cover of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's Jan. 14 edition, which features a cartoon of a tearful Prophet Mohammad with a sign "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) below the headline: "Tout est pardonne" (All is forgiven). 

Many Muslims regard depictions of Mohammad as blasphemous. 

Seventeen people died in violence in Paris last week that began with a Jan. 7 attack by two Islamist gunmen on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 people were killed including the journal's top cartoonists, and ended with a siege at a kosher supermarket on Jan. 9 in which four people died. A policewoman was also shot dead elsewhere on the street. All three gunmen involved were killed in raids by French special forces. 

"We believe that sanctities need to be respected," Zarif said. "We won't be able to engage in a serious dialogue if we start disrespecting each other's values." 

Mohammad Nahavandian, top aide to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, struck an upbeat note before the talks: "The government has taken on a constructive attitude toward the nuclear issue and there is great hope to reach good results." 

Al Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the shooting attack on Charlie Hebdo, saying it was ordered by the Islamist militant group's leadership for insulting the Prophet Mohammad, according to a video posted on YouTube.

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