Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Surprise Iran Nuclear Talks: Why US Sends in Top US-Iran Dealmaker

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Surprise Iran Nuclear Talks: Why US Sends in Top US-Iran Dealmaker

Article excerpt

The US State Department has dispatched its No. 2 diplomat to surprise talks with senior Iranian officials in Geneva, an indication of the Obama administration's growing concerns over lack of progress in international talks on curtailing Iran's nuclear program.

With a July 20 deadline for reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran approaching, Deputy Secretary William Burns joins two other senior US officials - Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Jacob Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser - in two days of talks that got under way Monday.

The US-Iran talks announced over the weekend came as a surprise, since the negotiations between Iran and six world powers, including the US, are to resume next week. The inclusion of Secretary Burns in this week's discussions is what added a note of urgency.

It was Burns who held secret talks with Iranian officials in 2013 that provided the breakthrough that allowed world powers and Iran to reach an interim deal last November. The Burns message to Iran in the secret conversations was basically this: that the US would accept an Iranian nuclear program with some domestic enrichment as long as the international community could verify with certainty that Iran could not assemble the building blocks of a nuclear weapon.

That bargain allowed for an interim agreement calling for six months of negotiations for reaching a comprehensive nuclear accord. Secretary Sherman leads the US delegation to the international talks with Iran, while Mr. Sullivan was also part of some of last year's secret US-Iran discussions.

But now, with just over a month left before the July 20 deadline, talks appear to have stalled. If anything, Iran seems to be adding new demands for reaching a deal - even though a toughened stance from Tehran would likely encourage the US Congress to renew its push for additional sanctions on Iran. Existing international sanctions have already dented Iran's economy, while both Iranian officials and the Obama administration have said adding more sanctions now could end diplomatic efforts to limit Iran's nuclear program. …

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