x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Iran and US to meet this week for talks

The meeting comes after the most recent round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six powers in Vienna last month ran into difficulties

WASHINGTON // American and Iranian officials will meet on Monday and Tuesday for talks before the next round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers on the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme, the US state department said yesterday.

Iran’s official news agency, Irna, said the discussions with US officials in Geneva would be followed by talks with Russia on Wednesday and Thursday in Rome.

The US delegation will be led by deputy secretary of state Bill Burns, who conducted the secret negotiations that helped bring about the November 24 interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers.

It will also include the senior US 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 programme in exchange for an end to sanctions.

The US decision to head to Geneva and meet the Iranian delegation, which a senior US official said might be led by Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, appeared to highlight Washington’s desire to break the deadlock ahead of a July 20 deadline for reaching a final agreement.

“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 US official said.

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 US 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 from June 16 to 20. The Vienna talks are coordinated by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The US 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.

Major issues between Iran and the P5+1 reportedly include the scope of Iran’s enrichment of uranium, which if further purified could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion, and its unfinished Arak research reactor, whose by-product waste could provide an alternative route to material for an atom bomb.

* Reuters with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse