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July 22, 2017

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Tehran, Washington reveal surprise direct nuclear talks

TEHRAN--Iran and the United States will on Monday and Tuesday hold their first direct talks in decades, in an unprecedented move toward securing a comprehensive nuclear deal between Tehran and the West.

The discussions will take place in Geneva, with the U.S. delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, who is responsible for Iran negotiations.

Iran will be represented at vice foreign minister level in what is the most senior direct bilateral contact on the nuclear issue so far.

The talks will be the first between Iran and the U.S. to fall outside the P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany — which is pursuing talks in the quest for a landmark nuclear settlement.

Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser and Deputy Assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama will join the U.S. team.

Helga Schmid, the political director of the EU which has been overseeing the nuclear talks with Iran, will also join, the European Union said in a statement.

A senior U.S. administration official said the latest developments signal that "the talks are intensifying."

The meeting is "a timely opportunity" to make progress, the U.S. official said, stressed however that the talks would be "consultations" that would feed into the P5+1 process, which resumes between June 16-20 in Vienna.

Iran and the U.S., at odds since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis that followed, have in the past year taken tentative steps to rapprochement.

President Hassan Rouhani, a self-declared moderate elected last June, spoke by telephone with Obama shortly after taking office.

Such a step had not occurred since the revolution and would have been considered unthinkable under Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under whom relations with the West plummeted.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also briefly met Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva last year.

The apparent thaw is aimed at ending decades of enmity, with an agreement on Iran's nuclear activities the main prize sought by the U.S. and other world powers.

In return, Iran wants an end to wide-ranging economic sanctions, imposed as punishment for its atomic program and resisting extensive international inspections, that devastated its economy.

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