Kerry: Diplomatic window with Iran "cracking open" ahead of nuclear talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a thumbs-up as he leaves Malaysia from outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 11, 2013. AP Photo

LONDON U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the window for diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program is "cracking open," but that "no deal is better than a bad deal."

Kerry made the comments in a speech Sunday via satellite from London to a foreign policy conference in California by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization in the United States.

The State Department released excerpts of Kerry's prepared remarks.

Earlier Sunday, Kerry and European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, held talks on Iran, Syria, Egypt, the Mideast peace process and other matters.

The focus on Iran's number program comes before the start of negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany that are set for Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva.

"Right now, the window for diplomacy is cracking open. But I want you to know that our eyes are open, too," Kerry said in his remarks to AIPAC.

Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

"While we seek a peaceful resolution to Iran's nuclear program, words must be matched with actions. In any engagement with Iran, we are mindful of Israel's security needs. We are mindful of the need for certainty, transparency, and accountability in the process. And I believe firmly that no deal is better than a bad deal," according to the excerpts of Kerry's speech.

International penalties over Iran's nuclear program have damaged Iran's economy, and Iran wants to ease them in exchange for some concessions. The West contends Iran is trying to make a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran has not publicly specified what measures it could take to satisfy Western concerns.

A top Iranian negotiator said Sunday that Tehran would not send any of its enriched uranium abroad as part of a deal.

On Sunday, state television quoted Araghchi as saying "shipping the material abroad is our red line. We do not allow shipment of even one gram of uranium from Iran."

Araghchi also said Iran will not withdraw "one iota" from its right to enrich uranium - a material needed to make nuclear weapons. His remarks contrasted those of Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, who last week said Iran would be willing to discuss its "surplus" uranium stockpile with Western powers.

Araghchi also said he will be in charge of the talks on Tuesday and Wednesday. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif apparently only will attend the initial and final sessions of the talks.

"If they are honest in their words and claims, this will be achievable for them," Araghchi said of the talks.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, elected this summer with the backing of centrists and reformists, has pledging a new approach to relations with the West. While previously saying Iran's "enrichment right is not negotiable," Rouhani has hinted his country may be willing to make as-of-yet unspecified concessions.

The nuclear negotiations come amid a thaw in relations between Iran and the U.S., which included a phone conversation between President Barack Obama and Rouhani. It was the highest-level dialogue between the countries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Kerry also met Zarif in the sideline of the U.N. General Assembly, the highest one-to-one talks between the two countries in more than three decades.

Araghchi also said his country's delegation and their U.S. counterparts will meet on the sideline of nuclear talks in Geneva, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The U.S. has been applying various levels of sanctions on Iran for decades, but tighter restrictions by the West on the oil sector have cut exports from 2.5 million barrels in 2011 to 1.2 million. Steps to block Iran from international banking networks, meanwhile, sent the national currency, the rial, into free-fall in late 2012, losing 40 percent of its value in a matter of weeks. The rial has clawed back since Rouhani's election in June, but is still far below its exchange value before the latest wave of sanctions.

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