WASHINGTON— Senior U.S. and Iranian officials will meet next week in Geneva for talks ahead of the next round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers on Iran's nuclear program, the U.S. State Department said Saturday.
Representatives of the two countries will meet Monday and Tuesday.
The U.S. delegation will be led by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who conducted the secret negotiations that helped bring about the Nov. 24 interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers. It will include the senior U.S. negotiator with Iran, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
The meeting comes after the most recent round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six powers in Vienna last month ran into difficulties, with both sides accusing the other of having unrealistic demands in negotiations aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic program in exchange for an end to sanctions.
The U.S. decision to head to Geneva and meet with the Iranian delegation, which a senior U.S. official said might be led by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, appeared to highlight Washington's desire to break the deadlock.
"We've always said that we would engage bilaterally with the Iranians if it can help advance our efforts, in active coordination with the P5+1," the U.S. official told Reuters. "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."
Consultations, not negotiations
The official said the talks next week were not negotiations.
"These are really consultations to exchange views in advance of the next negotiating round in Vienna," the 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 - and Iran in Vienna for a full round of negotiations June 16-20. The Vienna talks are coordinated by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The U.S. official noted that Washington was being open and public about the bilateral consultations with Iran "unlike before when it needed to be kept very discreet to give it the best chance of success."
"We haven't yet seen the kind of realism on the Iranian side that we need to see or seen them make some of the tough choices we're going to have to see," the official said.
"We're at critical moment" in the negotiations, the official added.