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New tone from Iran

The Syria developments emerged alongside another apparent breakthrough Thursday, in which Iran’s new government engaged in talks in New York with the U.S. and five other world powers on the issue of the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

Mr. Zarif sat directly next to Mr. Kerry during the meeting and held a rare one-on-one conversation — an unusually high-level contact between the long-estranged nations, which traditionally have had lower-level diplomatic representatives participate in nuclear talks.

Mr. Zarif said the talks, which also included representatives from Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — the so-called P1+5 group — reached an agreement to try to resolve all issues in the decadelong standoff surrounding Iran’s nuclear program within a year.

“We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game and move toward finalizing it hopefully within a year’s time,” the foreign minister said later in the evening in a speech at the Asia Society in New York.

“I thought I was too ambitious, bordering naivete. But I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster,” he said.

The seven nations agreed to meet again Oct. 15-16 in Geneva.

After the meeting, Mr. Kerry said he was encouraged by a “very different tone” put forth by Iranian officials, which was “welcome.” But, he cautioned, “one meeting and a change in tone” do not solve all the issues that need hammering out.

“All of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today and that he did put some possibilities on the table,” he told reporters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke similarly, saying there had been a “big improvement in the tone and spirit” from Iran.

History of estrangement

It was an uncommonly hgh-level encounter between top officials of the U.S. and Iran, which have been estranged since the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah and subsequently invaded the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and held hostage 52 staff members and diplomats for more than a year.

The meeting was the first between a U.S. secretary of state and an Iranian foreign minister since a brief encounter in May 2007.

Heading into the meeting, the Obama administration downplayed the likelihood of a breakthrough but expressed optimism about talks with the government of Iran’s recently elected President Hassan Rouhani.

Some Western foreign policy analysts have suggested that Mr. Rouhani is significantly more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and represents a significant opportunity for dialogue between Tehran and Washington.

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