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WASHINGTON (Wall Street Journal) —The U.S. and Iran will hold bilateral talks on Tehran's nuclear program on June 9-10 in Geneva, the State Department said Saturday.

The high-level negotiations will take place five weeks ahead of a July 20 diplomatic deadline that Iran and world powers have set to try to end the international dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

U.S. and European officials have hinted in recent weeks that they believe the deadline might need to be extended due to continued divisions between Iran and the international bloc, which comprises the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, or P5+1, over the future of Iran's nuclear program.

"We believe we need to engage in as much active diplomacy as we can to test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program," said a senior U.S. official. "These consultations come at an important juncture of the negotiations, and they will give us a timely opportunity to exchange views in the context of the next P5+ 1 round in Vienna."

The U.S. delegation will be led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and include the Obama administration's lead nuclear negotiator, Wendy Sherman, and Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser, the State Department said.

The U.S. didn't announce who would lead Iran's delegation to the Geneva talks. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has been heading the Iranian negotiating team in a string of meetings that have taken place in Geneva and Vienna over the past nine months.

The Geneva talks will mark the resumption of a bilateral channel between Iran and the U.S. on the nuclear issue that secretly began in the Persian Gulf nation of Oman nearly two years ago. Messrs. Burns and Sullivan have been the main interlocutors in these direct talks.

U.S. and Iranian officials said the bilateral negotiations were key in helping to forge an interim agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 last November in Geneva. The pact has curbed parts of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an easing of Western sanctions.

The current talks are aimed at permanently ending the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a more comprehensive lifting of U.S. and European sanctions that have cut Iran's oil exports in half over the past two years.

"It's natural for Bill and Jake to join the delegation for this meeting given their history of negotiating with Iran," the American official said. "As we have said previously, the elements now under discussion in our negotiations over a comprehensive solution were part of the [interim agreement]. So it just makes sense."

 

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