U.S., Iran to Meet in Attempt to Break Nuclear Impasse

Meeting in Geneva ahead of fifth round of Vienna talks is first time U.S., Iran officials meet outside of negotiations between Iran and six world powers.

Kerry and Zarif
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) at the UN, September 26, 2013. AP

Senior U.S. and Iranian officials will meet in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday, in an attempt to break the deadlock in negotiations between Iran and six world powers on Iran's nuclear program, and to make it possible to reach a deal by the July 20 deadline set for the end negotiations.

This will be the first time since the beginning of the Vienna talks that U.S. and Iranian officials meet outside of the negotiations. The fifth round of talks are scheduled to begin on June 16.

The U.S. State Department announced next week's meetings on Saturday afternoon. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will lead the U.S. delegation. Burns led the secret negotiations between Tehran and Washington that helped bring about the interim nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers last year.

U.S. President Barack Obama's adviser Jack Sullivan, who was also involved in the secret negotiations, will also join the delegation alongside Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, a senior U.S. senior negotiator.

Heading the Iranian delegation is Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi. Following Monday's talks, Iran will meet with the Russian delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, on Tuesday. 

A U.S. official said that the Geneva meeting is part of Washington's attempt to use diplomatic channels to reach a framework agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

"These consultations come at an important juncture of the negotiations, and they will give us a timely opportunity to exchange views (with the Iranians) in the context of the next P5+ 1 round in Vienna," the official said. 

"We’ve always said that we'd engage with the Iranians bilaterally if it can help advance our efforts, in coordination with our partners." 

The Geneva meeting is not a substitute for the Vienna talks, the official added. 

"They are not a substitute for the P5+1 process, nor are they intended to establish a parallel track with Iran. We, like other P5+1 states, see value in having bilateral consultations with Iran given our shared interest in reaching a comprehensive agreement to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program."

The U.S. official added that the Geneva meeting is an attempt to increase the pace of negotiations toward the July 20 deadline. The meeting is not intended for negotiations, he said, but for discussion and raising ideas that can be used in the fifth round of talks. He said that it is all part of the same process, and that the U.S. hopes Iran will be more realistic in its demands. 

The fourth round of nuclear talks in Vienna a few weeks ago ended with division and disagreement between the two sides. The two sides were meant to begin drafting the text of a framework agreement. However, this didn't happen because of a disagreement over Iranian demands to produce fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power plant, the fate of the Arak reactor, and a number of other issues.

The failure of the fourth round has raised doubts on all sides that the six powers and Iran can reach a deal by the July 20 deadline. The sides are considering the possibility of extending the talks by a few more months.