The Obama administration confirmed Monday that US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week, the first such high-level contact between the two governments since the 1979 Iranian revolution overthrew the US-backed dictatorship of the Shah.
The meeting, which will take place in conjunction with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, will include the other members of the so-called P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany -- the group of countries which have conducted diplomatic negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
The White House Monday downplayed speculation that President Barack Obama will stage some kind of symbolic encounter with newly-elected Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, both of whom are set to address the opening session of the UN General Assembly today.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the US was willing to hold talks with Iran, "commensurate with a willingness by Iran to be serious about dealing with its nuclear weapons program." The Iranian government has consistently denied that there is any such program and insisted that its nuclear activities are dedicated to peaceful purposes. US intelligence estimates have substantiated that Iran has no ongoing nuclear weapons program.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes adopted a similar tack, insisting that the draconian sanctions imposed by Washington and its allies was necessary to "prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but that the Obama administration was also holding "open the door to a diplomatic solution so that we can achieve a resolution to this issue that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon while allowing them access to peaceful nuclear power consistent with the nonproliferation obligations."