* U.S., Iran talks ahead of full Jan. 18 negotiations
* Zarif: Talks with Kerry help gauge if progress possible
* On Charlie Hebdo, Zarif says "sanctities" need respect
* U.S., Iran foreign ministers hold unplanned evening
(adds end of talks, new paras 5-7)
By Arshad Mohammed and Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Jan 14 U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry and Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif held
intensive talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme on
Wednesday, returning for an evening session before handing off
to their deputies, officials said.
Iran and six world powers have renewed their quest for an
elusive nuclear deal - seen as crucial to reducing the risk of a
wider Middle East war - after negotiators failed for the second
time in November to meet a self-imposed deadline.
Kerry and Zarif "had substantive meetings for approximately
five hours today and they discussed a broad range of issues with
a small group of staff from each side," a senior State
Department official said.
But Kerry later unexpectedly returned to the Geneva lakeside
hotel for a third meeting lasting some 90 minutes with Zarif
after briefing senior U.S. negotiators ahead of their
technical-level talks scheduled with Iranian counterparts for
Thursday in the Swiss city.
"Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif reconvened this
evening to continue discussion about the nuclear negotiations in
advance of the start of the next round of talks tomorrow," a
U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.
Wendy Sherman, acting deputy secretary of state, and deputy
foreign minister Abbas Araqchi are to lead their delegations at
Thursday's talks, to be followed on Sunday Jan. 18 by wider
talks between Iran and major world powers.
As the two sides met in Geneva, Iran's judiciary indicted
American journalist Jason Rezaian and sent his case to be tried
in a hardline Revolutionary Court, the official IRNA news agency
reported late on Wednesday.
Earlier Zarif said that serious dialogue with the West would
be easier if it respected Muslim sensitivities, ruffled by the
latest Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
Speaking to reporters before talks began, Zarif said the
meeting would help gauge whether both sides were ready to
advance toward a deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme in
exchange for sanctions relief.
"I think it's important. I think it will show the readiness
of the two parties to move forward and to speed up the process,"
Zarif told reporters.
The two men took a break from hotel talks for a 15-minute
joint stroll through downtown Geneva during the afternoon.
"We are working hard," Kerry told a journalist during the
walkabout, which took them along the Rhone River flowing out of
Lake Geneva, according to a U.S. official.
The sought-after agreement, whose new deadline is June 30,
would gradually lift tough financial and trade sanctions imposed
on the Islamic Republic since 2006 in exchange for verifiable
limits on its enrichment of uranium to ensure it cannot be put
to developing nuclear weapons.
The Islamic Republic says it wants only civilian energy from
enrichment, denying Western suspicions of a secret bomb agenda.
Zarif also sought to explain why Iranians are dismayed by
the cover of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's Jan. 14
edition, which features a cartoon of a tearful Prophet Mohammad
with a sign "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) below the headline:
"Tout est pardonné" (All is forgiven).
Many Muslims regard depictions of Mohammad as blasphemous.
Seventeen people died in violence in Paris last week that
began with a Jan. 7 attack by two Islamist gunmen on the offices
of Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 people were killed including the
journal's top cartoonists, and ended with a siege at a kosher
supermarket on Jan. 9 in which four people died. A policewoman
was also shot dead elsewhere on the street. All three gunmen
involved were killed in raids by French special forces.
"We believe that sanctities need to be respected," Zarif
said. "We won't be able to engage in a serious dialogue if we
start disrespecting each other's values."
(Additional reporting by Mehrdad Balali in Dubai; Editing by
Mark Heinrich/Ralph Boulton)