U.S., Iran aiming to kick-start talks on nuke plans

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WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. officials plan to meet in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday with an Iranian delegation in an attempt to advance the stalled nuclear talks, the State Department announced Saturday.

The meeting is particularly noteworthy because the U.S. delegation will include William Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and Jacob Sullivan, the national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. Mr. Burns led the Obama administration's back-channel talks with Iranian officials last year that led to the interim agreement in November to freeze much of Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Sullivan also participated in those discussions.

"We believe we need to engage in as much active diplomacy as we can to test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program," a senior Obama administration official said.

There are mounting signs that diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program is running into trouble. The point of the interim accord negotiated last year, one of the Obama administration's most important diplomatic achievements during its second term, was to buy time so that a more comprehensive agreement to rein in Iran's nuclear program might be reached.

But the recent round of formal negotiations between six world powers and Iran in Vienna, aimed at producing a comprehensive agreement, made scant progress. Among the roadblocks are major differences over how much capacity Iran would be allowed to have to enrich uranium. With no progress to announce, Catherine Ashton, the senior foreign policy official for the European Union, dispensed with the customary joint news conference with her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The interim accord, which is due to expire July 20, has a clause that allows for a six-month extension.

Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state who led the U.S. delegation to the negotiations in Vienna, will attend the session in Geneva, as will Helga Schmid, the EU's political director. U.S. officials emphasized that the purpose of the talks in Geneva was to jump-start the stalled negotiations in Vienna, not replace them.

IRNA, Iran's official news agency, said that talks would be held with the Americans in Geneva, to be followed by discussions with Russian officials in Rome.

In his back-channel role, Mr. Burns and a small group of U.S. officials flew in an unmarked government plane to Oman in March 2013, when they met with Iranian officials. Mr. Burns told his Iranian counterparts that the United States was willing to explore an agreement allowing Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program that included the ability to enrich uranium if Tehran accepted limits to preclude that program from being used to develop nuclear weapons. The trade-off later became the basis of the interim agreement.


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