London, Asharq Al-Awsat—US Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Iranian nuclear program in New York on Sunday, in a bid to move the talks forward and strengthen the international coalition against the militant group.
According to a senior State Department Official, Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the current state of the deadlocked nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) as heads of state began to convene for this week’s ministerial meeting of the UN General Assembly.
According to the official, “they discussed both the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done.”
“Secretary Kerry noted that this week is an opportunity to make additional progress and stressed that it is our intention to do so,” the official added.
The talks between Iran and the six world powers resumed at the UN on Friday, with some reports saying the US was attempting to move the process forwards as a November 24 deadline for a final agreement approaches, and that the talks remain stalled on the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
On Saturday, AP claimed US officials had proposed that Iran disconnect a number of its uranium centrifuges from the pipes that feed them uranium, a compromise that would allow Iran to retain ownership of the machines while ensuring they cannot be used to produce bomb-grade nuclear material.
While Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the US and its allies have sought to convince Iran to accept limits on its ability to enrich uranium, making it more difficult to divert the material towards the construction of a nuclear bomb.
In particular, the US has proposed that Iran reduce its number of centrifuges from 19,000 to 1,500 in return for lifting economic sanctions.
Iran, on the other hand, is seeking flexibility from the US on the nuclear issue, in return for cooperation against ISIS, Iranian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
“Iran is a very influential country in the region and can help in the fight against the [ISIS] terrorists . . . but it is a two way street. You give something, you take something,” an Iranian official told the news agency, on condition of anonymity.
“[ISIS] is a threat to world security, not our [nuclear] program, which is a peaceful program.”
Talks between Iran officials and those from the P5+1 are expected to continue in New York until September 26.
Though Kerry discussed ISIS in his meeting with Zarif on Sunday, the State Department said only that the two men “discussed the threat posed by [ISIS]. Going forward, the secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif agreed to meet further as needed while in New York this week.”
Following his meeting with Zarif, Kerry met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to discuss the Iranian nuclear talks, as well as France’s involvement in the fight against ISIS.
“The secretary thanked Foreign Minister Fabius and France for all that it is already doing, particularly its decision to help with strikes in Iraq,” another State Department official said.
French jets bombed an ISIS depot in northeast Iraq on Friday, in the first air strike by a US ally as part of the campaign against the extremist group.
As well as sending a small number of combat jets and support personnel to an air base in the UAE to take part in the bombing, Paris has also dispatched weapons to Kurdish forces battling ISIS in Iraq.
France’s President François Hollande has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq, however.
Though analysts said that France’s contribution was largely symbolic, they added that it may provide political cover for other states to join in.