The United States said yesterday it will send its No 2 diplomat to Geneva to meet senior Iranian officials in what appeared an effort to break a logjam in wider negotiations over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who led secret US-Iranian negotiations that helped bring about a November 24 interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers, will head a US delegation for the talks tomorrow and Tuesday.
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 officials.
The most recent round of 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 programme in exchange for an end to economic sanctions.
The US decision to head to Geneva and meet with the Iranian delegation, which a senior US official said might be led by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, 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 programme, we believe we need to engage in very active and very aggressive diplomacy," the senior US 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 from June 16-20.
"We're at a critical moment," the US official added. "We've always said we would engage bilaterally with the Iranians if it can help advance our efforts, in active coordination with the P5+1."
Robert Einhorn, a former top US non-proliferation official, said he viewed the Burns trip as an effort to meet what appears to be an extremely challenging deadline of July 20 to secure a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear programme.