Iran wins 'good reaction' to nuclear proposal

GENEVA (AFP) - Iran said its hotly awaited proposal to break the deadlock with world powers over its nuclear programme earned a good reception on Tuesday, in talks seen as a test of a thaw under new President Hassan Rouhani.

The hour-long PowerPoint presentation by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his team was for the first time delivered in English, Western officials said, underlining a new mood in the often-tense nuclear talks.

Senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi praised the "very positive environment" and said the "reaction was good" across the table.

He told reporters that all sides had agreed not to reveal details, but insisted the proposal was "very comprehensive" and eclipsed one made in April under Mr Rouhani's predecessor that ended up a dead letter.

However, he was quoted by the Iranian state news agency IRNA as saying that snap inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities were not on the table.

"It does not exist in the offer," Dr Araghchi told IRNA.

Iran's two-day meeting with the European Union-chaired P5+1 group - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany - ends a six-month hiatus over the Islamic republic's refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of punishing international sanctions.

"The climate of the meeting was very good and very constructive. The proposal that we have introduced has the capacity to make a breakthrough," Dr Aragchi said after Tuesday's opening session.

The talks in Geneva are seen as test for the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August pledging transparency on the nuclear programme and engagement with the international community to help lift the sanctions strangling Iran's economy.

Mr Rouhani took office in August after conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under whom the nuclear talks hit the wall, served out his second four-year term in power.

"We are very serious. We are not here symbolically, to waste our time. We are serious for target-oriented negotiations," said Dr Aragchi.

Iran's archfoe Israel has warned the world not to fall for "sweet talk" from Mr Rouhani.

Western negotiators insist they are not naive but that the change in Teheran's tone, at least, is clear.

European Union spokesman Michael Mann underlined the "very different" atmosphere.

"We have come here with a sense of cautious optimism and a great sense of determination because we believe it's really time now for tangible results," Mr Mann told reporters in Geneva.

"There are signals from Teheran that they want to engage in these negotiations, that they want to be more transparent. The proof would be if they made real progress," he said.

"We are on our side ambitious to move forward quickly... The ball remains in their court," he added.

Earlier, Mr Zarif said Teheran's plan contained three steps that could settle the long-running nuclear standoff "within a year".

He said the initial step could be achieved "within a month or two, or even less".

Acknowledging that "the nuclear issue cannot be resolved in one session, as mistrust has been accumulated over years", he said he hoped for at least a roadmap for higher-level talks.

A senior US administration official said earlier in Geneva that detail was the key and that any easing of sanctions would be "targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table".

"We are hopeful, but that has to be tested with concrete, verifiable actions.

"In the past, Iran has taken the negotiated time and just kept moving forward with its nuclear programme. We cannot allow that to be the case," the official warned.

Western powers and Israel suspect Iran of developing an atomic bomb, a claim vehemently denied by Tehran which insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.

Iran has drawn its red lines, saying it will not accept any demand to suspend uranium enrichment or ship out stockpiles of purified material.

A first meeting between Mr Zarif and counterparts from the six powers took place last month during the UN General Assembly, accompanied by a landmark two-way meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Shortly before the talks began, Israel - believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear armed state - warned against accepting "cosmetic concessions" that would not impede Iran's quest for atomic weapons.

Mr Kerry said on Sunday that the window for diplomacy with Iran was "cracking open" but that Washington was serious about never allowing room for a nuclear-armed Iran.

"I believe firmly that no deal is better than a bad deal," he said.