For First Time in Years

Kerry to Meet Iranian Counterpart on Sidelines of UN General Assembly

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will join meeting of six world powers, following 'constructive' discussion.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will join a meeting of the six permanent United Nations Security Council members on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced Monday.

Ashton said she was surprised by Zarif's energy and determination, adding: "We had a good and constructive discussion."

Secretary of State John Kerry will also attend Thursday's meeting, which will focus on the continuation of negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear program. This will be the first meeting between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart in many years.The foreign ministers from Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France will represent their countries at the meeting.

The meeting between Zarif and Kerry will take place a day after Iranian President Hassan Rohani's address to the General Assembly. Rohani said on Monday he would use his visit to the United Nations this week to present the "true face of Iran." His speech is expected to focus on his country's nuclear program.

Rohani, who is expected to utilize the UNGA visit to wage a public relations blitz, will meet with several Western leaders, the most noteworthy of which is French President Francoise Hollande. At this point, Rohani's chances at getting a meeting with Obama are slim, however the two are expected to attend a festive dinner hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It's possible that Rohani and Obama will have a polite exchange of words or even a handshake.

Also on Monday, Iran announced it has freed 80 prisoners, including many arrested during the unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

The mass release announced Monday is likely to provide a diplomatic boost for Rohani as he heads to New York.

The official IRNA news agency says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to a request from the judiciary to release the opposition supporters and others jailed on security charges.

Last week, Iran released a dozen prominent political prisoners, including a human rights lawyer. The main opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi remain under house arrest.