Discuss as:

Diplomats surprised as nuclear talks with Iran 'constructive and useful'

Leaders from around the world have gathered in Turkey with representatives from Iran, hoping to resolve an ongoing nuclear controversy that is threatening relations in the Middle East. NBC's Ali Arouzi reports.

Updated 3:42 p.m. ET: ISTANBUL -- Iran and world powers discussed Tehran's controversial nuclear program for the first time in over a year on Saturday and, in what Western diplomats called a constructive development given their low expectations, agreed to meet again.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief who has headed negotiations for the six international powers, told a news conference they had arranged to meet the Iranian delegation again in Baghdad on May 23.

The West accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Israel – believed to be the only Middle East state with an atomic arsenal – sees Iran's atomic plans as a threat to its existence and has threatened military action.

Amid Iran tensions, neighbor becomes den of spies

Iran has said its program is peaceful and has threatened to retaliate for any attack by closing a major oil shipping route.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action to destroy Iran's nuclear sites.

Saeed Jalili, the chief Iranian negotiator, told a news conference there had been differences of opinion but that some important points had been agreed and that the next talks should focus on arranging measures to build mutual confidence. Iran has been hit by new waves of Western economic sanctions this year.

Western participants had said previously that agreeing to meet for a second round of talks would constitute a successful day. It may remove some heat from a crisis in which warnings from Israel of a possible strike against Iranian facilities have stoked fears of a major war in an already unsettled Middle East.

One non-Iranian diplomat called the atmosphere "completely different" from that of previous meetings, as Western delegates watched out for signs that Iran was ready to engage after more than a year of threats in defense of its right to pursue nuclear energy and denials it wants to be able to build an atom bomb.

After a day in which diplomats had spoken of a more engaged tone from Iranian officials compared to the 15 months of angry rhetoric on either side that has filled the hiatus since the last meetings, Ashton called the talks useful and constructive.

"We want now to move to a sustained process of serious dialogue, where we can take urgent, practical steps to build confidence," she said.

The six world powers present were the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Russia, China, the United States, France, Britain and Germany.

The talks were never expected to yield any major breakthrough but diplomats believed a serious commitment from Iran would be enough to schedule another round of talks for next month and start discussing issues at the heart of the dispute.

During the day's meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who is leading the Russian delegation, told Interfax news agency: "The atmosphere is constructive, the conversation is businesslike. As of the moment, things are going well."

 

MSNBC's Richard Lui speaks with former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg about North Korea's suspected plans for a new nuclear test, and the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf ahead of nuclear talks with Iran.

More from msnbc.com and NBC News:

Failed rocket launch? What rocket launch?

Murdoch paper faces damages claim for email hacking

Brazil's 'gringo' problem: its borders

Can the 'Toulouse effect' save Sarkozy from defeat in France?

Nun at center of Spain's stolen babies scandal refuses to testify

Follow us on Twitter: @msnbc_world