The United States has announced that it is sending two top negotiators to Geneva for direct talks with Iranian officials over Tehran's nuclear programme.

A State Department official confirmed the meeting on Saturday, noting the US delegation would be led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, for talks set for Monday and Tuesday.

Iran nuclear talks hit crucial stage

The US decision to head to Geneva and meet with the Iranian delegation, which a senior US official said might be led by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, appeared to reflect Washington's desire to try to break the deadlock.

It will be the first bilateral meeting of the nations in decades.

"In order to really seriously test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear programme, we believe we need to engage in very active and very aggressive diplomacy," the senior US official told Reuters news agency on Saturday.

"We've always said that we would engage bilaterally with the Iranians if it can help advance our efforts, in active coordination with the P5+1."

Breaking deadlock

An interim deal reached in November by Iran and six world powers - the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - limited Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

In exchange, some penalties imposed against Iran were eased. But sanctions such as those targeting Iran's oil imports have remained in place.

Those nuclear talks are scheduled to resume June 16. There is an informal deadline of July 20 for a comprehensive deal.

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Iran's official IRNA news agency said the upcoming US talks would be followed by separate discussions in Rome between Iranian and Russian officials on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It quoted Araqchi as saying that the Islamic Republic planned to hold bilateral talks as well with the other world powers, but those meetings had yet to be set.

Iran insists its programme is for peaceful energy and medical research purposes. Much of the world fears Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Source: Agencies