US, Iran, EU officials to meet in Geneva
Iranian, US and European Union officials will start two days of talks about Tehran's nuclear programme tomorrow, Iran said, giving its first word about what appears to be a bid to rescue faltering wider negotiations on ending a decade-old dispute.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told state-run Iranian television that the meeting in Geneva would also discuss sanctions that have damaged the OPEC member's oil-dependent economy.
"The meeting tomorrow with the Americans will be trilateral and Helga Schmidt, the deputy of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, will be present as well," Araqchi said.
Nuclear talks between Iran and six major powers in Vienna last month ran into difficulties, with each side accusing the other of having unrealistic demands in negotiations aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.
That raised doubts over the prospects for a breakthrough by a July 20 deadline.
Western officials say Iran wants to maintain an excessive uranium enrichment capability. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for its nuclear reactors and rejects Western allegations it seeks the capability to make atomic weapons under cover of a civilian energy programme.
The United States has said it would send its No. 2 diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, to Geneva to meet senior Iranian officials on Monday and Tuesday.
Burns, who led secret US-Iranian negotiations that helped bring about a Nov. 24 interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers, would head a US delegation, it said.
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the primary US negotiator with Iran, will accompany him on a team that will include senior White House national security staff.
The U.S. decision to travel to Geneva and meet with the Iranian delegation appeared to reflect Washington's desire to try to break the deadlock.
"In order to really seriously test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program, we believe we need to engage in very active and very aggressive diplomacy," the senior U.S. official said.
The United States is set to join the other members of the six-power negotiating group known as the P5+1 - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - plus Iran for a full round of negotiations June 16-20 in Vienna. The talks are coordinated by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.