Burns to join Iran nuclear talks in Vienna

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US Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns will join talks between Iran, the U.S. and European Union in Vienna on Monday, US officials said.

Burns was seen on the plane Sunday traveling with the US delegation, led by Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, to Vienna. He and Sherman are expected to meet Monday with Iranian and European Union negotiators. Sherman will stay on for nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 expected to go til Friday, as efforts intensify to reach a final nuclear accord by July 20.

“We’re at a critical point in these negotiations, and we’re going to work as hard as we possibly can to see if we can get to an agreement here,” a senior U.S. Administration official told Al-Monitor Monday. “Deputy Burns will be joining for meetings on the 16th, including an expected trilateral with Iran and the EU.”

“We’ve always said our diplomatic efforts would continue to intensify, and they have,” the US official said. “This is another example of that effort. And we’ve been clear that various members of our negotiating team – especially the Deputy, given his history working on this issue with the Iranians – will participate in various meetings throughout this process.”

Burns previously led secret US bilateral talks with Iran last fall. But last week the State Department announced that he and Sherman were co-leading the US team to bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva in order to break what reportedly has been a deadlock in the negotiations.

As negotiators intensify efforts to reach a final nuclear accord by July 20, the US bilateral and P5+1 nuclear negotiating teams seem to have merged, and the US Iran contacts on a nuclear deal become less secret. The US will also this week open contacts with Iran about the security crisis in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Burns, when he traveled to Oman for secret nuclear talks with Iran last year, reportedly traveled on an unmarked US government plane. But he, Sherman and their team were seen Sunday at the Washington Dulles airport business lounge awaiting their flight to Vienna, with no apparent attempt at hiding his presence.