WASHINGTON, July 16 – A senior US diplomat will meet with a top Iranian representative at talks on Tehran’s nuclear program in Geneva this weekend, a State Department official confirmed.
Undersecretary of State William Burns, the US State Department’s number three official, will attend a meeting in Geneva Saturday between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Tehran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili "to receive the Iranian response to the latest offer of the P5 plus 1," the official said Tuesday, requesting anonymity.
In a shift in US policy, the meeting was planned as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany seek to reach an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
The decision came after Washington insisted for months that it would only negotiate with Iran after it suspends its nuclear enrichment activities, which Tehran has refused to do.
A State Department official told the Washington Post that Burns will not negotiate and will not hold separate meetings with the Iranians.
Instead, he will reiterate Washington’s insistence that Iran stop its uranium enrichment operations before the US can enter into any serious negotiations.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Jalili and Solana were to discuss a "timetable" for future negotiations to break the deadlock between the two sides.
"In these talks, the framework of talks and timetable of talks" will be discussed, Ahmadinejad told state television.
He added without explanation that "It is possible that in the near future talks in different fields will take place with the United States."
Washington broke off relations with Tehran in 1980 in the wake of the Islamic revolution, and ties have remained severed ever since amid increasing acrimony over the disputed Iranian nuclear programme.
Last month the P5 plus 1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) presented Iran with an offer of technological incentives in exchange for suspending sensitive uranium enrichment work.
Reports say Solana is proposing to Tehran that world powers would refrain from new sanctions provided Iran did not start operating any more centrifuges to enrich uranium.
Iran has countered with a proposal which it says will go toward solving some of the major security problems of the world, and which diplomats have called complex.
However tensions over the nuclear standoff have again surged in the past two days after Iran test fired a broadside of missiles including one whose range includes Israel in war games that provoked international concern.