U.S. leads push to get Iran talks on track after stumble

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PARIS — U.S. and Iranian officials are holding an extra round of meetings to revive momentum in the push for an accord on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

The two sides met for five hours in Geneva and will reconvene Tuesday. The bilateral sessions were needed because “we are a critical juncture in the talks” and time is running short, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said they were “held in a positive and constructive atmosphere,” the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

The drive toward a final accord with Iran stumbled at the latest round of talks with world powers in Vienna last month, endangering the progress made since November’s preliminary agreement. With that process due to resume next week, Tuesday’s additional meetings reflect growing urgency as the July 20 target for a deal nears.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Deputy National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan took part took part in the meetings in Geneva. The two men were part of the secret direct talks the U.S. held with Iran last year.

This time, their mission is to assess whether Iran is serious about reaching an accord to curb its nuclear program, or stalling for time and seeking to weaken sanctions, said one official involved in the deliberations.

The renewed involvement of Burns “reflects both the difficulty of the negotiations and Obama’s strong desire to get an agreement,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

European Union official Helga Schmid also took part in talks Monday.

The U.S. and its allies want an accord to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran says it has no such ambition, and is seeking a deal that will end its economic isolation.

The interim accord reached in Geneva in November expires on July 20. The Obama administration and Iran have said they are open to an extension to allow more time for obtaining a final agreement, a point that Araghchi reiterated Monday. Congress, though, has threatened new sanctions if a final deal isn’t completed by then.

The biggest disagreement between Iran and its interlocutors is over how many and what type of centrifuges Iran would be permitted, an arrangement that will determine how much enriched uranium it can produce. Enriched uranium is used to power energy and medical reactors, and can be developed into bomb-grade fuel.

Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers are to resume in Vienna on June 16.