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British PM, Iran president hold first talks since 1979

The meeting took place at the British mission office at the United Nations as the General Assembly got underway

Published: Updated:

British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday at the United Nations, the first meeting between the countries’ leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The meeting took place at the British mission office at the United Nations as the General Assembly got underway.

“The Prime Minister met President (Hassan) Rouhani of Iran this morning at the United Nations in New York, the first such meeting since the Iranian Revolution in 1979,” Cameron’s spokesperson’s office said in a statement.

“The PM and President acknowledged that there had been significant differences between their countries in the past, and agreed that we should seek to progressively improve our bilateral relationship,” it said, adding “it was vital to seize the opportunity of securing a comprehensive (atomic) agreement.”

Rouhani posted a photograph of himself smiling as he shook hands with Cameron.

The British government says a key priority at the largest diplomatic gathering in the world is building broad-based support for the new government in Iraq and international action to confront militants in Iraq and Syria.

Cameron is due to address the UN General Assembly later Wednesday.

Western powers are seeking to build support for the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, which holds a large tract of territory in Iraq and Syria and which has beheaded two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.

The U.S. and Arab allies launched the first air and sea strikes against ISIS militants in Syria on Tuesday, expanding the action the United States has been leading against the militants in Iraq since the start of August.

Iran, which usually rails against any U.S. presence in the Middle East, has been unusually accepting of the U.S. action in Iraq, where it is also tackling ISIS militants.

Rouhani has criticized the U.S. for not sending in ground troops, and on Monday said the people in the region were "defending themselves... against the terrorists" and that Iran would help.

Britain and France have taken up the task of trying to win some form of other cooperation from Iran against ISIS.

Cameron has promised to ask for parliamentary approval for any British involvement in the U.S.-led military action against ISIS, but he appears wary of a repeat of last year’s humiliating defeat in the House of Commons over military action in Syria.

(With AFP and Reuters)