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FILE - In this Monday, July 1, 2013, file photo, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns speaks during a press conference at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon. The No. 2 diplomat in the State Department, Burns, plans to come to Cairo to meet with interim government officials as well as civil society and business leaders during his two-day visit.

Bilal Hussein, Associated Press - Ap

U.S. seeks to revive nuclear talks with Iran

  • Article by: Michael R. Gordon
  • New York Times
  • June 7, 2014 - 5:53 PM

– 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 said Saturday.

The meeting is particularly noteworthy because the U.S. delegation will include William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and Jacob J. Sullivan, national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Burns led the Obama administration’s back-channel talks with Iranian officials last year that led the interim agreement in November to freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program. 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 on condition of anonymity. “These consultations come at an important juncture of the negotiations,” he added.

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.

Each side accused the other of being intransigent.

With no progress to announce, Catherine Ashton, the senior foreign policy official for the European Union, chose to dispense 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. But many U.S. lawmakers are skeptical of the Iranians’ intentions. Some negotiating progress would likely be needed to extend the talks for several more months and forestall congressional pressure for additional sanctions, officials said.

Wendy R. Sherman, the undersecretary of state who led the U.S. delegation to the negotiations in Vienna, will attend the session in Geneva and will be joined by several of her key aides.

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, 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.

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.

Iran agreed to the trade-off, which later became the basis of the interim agreement.

© 2014 Star Tribune