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Iran Questions Western 'Desire' to End Atomic Dispute

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a Sunday press conference in Tehran. Zarif questioned whether Western powers are committed to resolving a long-running dispute over his nation's nuclear activities. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a Sunday press conference in Tehran. Zarif questioned whether Western powers are committed to resolving a long-running dispute over his nation's nuclear activities. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran's top diplomat questioned the seriousness of Western atomic negotiators after extensive talks with a chief multilateral envoy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif voiced skepticism about the determination of Western powers to peacefully defuse a longstanding nuclear dispute after he met with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who traveled to Tehran on behalf of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany. In addition to speaking with Zarif, Ashton on Sunday met in the Iranian capital with President Hassan Rouhani, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior counselor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The "P-5+1" powers are seeking a long-term deal to alleviate global suspicions that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-arms capability through its atomic program, which Tehran insists is entirely peaceful. The Middle Eastern nation, for its part, is seeking relief from international sanctions.

Zarif said "it is up to the other side [to] come to the negotiating table with a desire, decision and commitment to reach a mutually acceptable agreement."

The foreign minister also voiced concerns over other countries' compliance with a six-month atomic pact reached in November as an initial step toward a broader compromise. Tehran has taken issue with how the United States is following through on pledges to grant Iran access to petroleum proceeds held overseas, and with U.S. steps to tighten existing sanctions.

"It is up to the other party to show the same goodwill and determination [as Iran]," Reuters quoted Zarif as saying. "With desire, commitment and willingness a comprehensive deal can be reached ... in four or five months."

Ashton, though, said "there's no guarantee we'll succeed," the Journal reported.

Her side has aired worries about some conditions Tehran has placed on the negotiations, including its refusal to address Iranian missile operations.

Ashton spokesman Michael Mann said Western governments hope "to negotiate quickly, but the most important thing is that it’s a good agreement that everyone can live with," the Washington Post reported.

"It's important to come [to Tehran] and see what scope there is for working with Iran," Mann added.

Iranian diplomats are scheduled to meet next week with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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