National

Oct 1, 2009 10:20 AM by NBC News

U.S., Iranian diplomats hold rare 1-on-1 talks

U.S. and Iranian delegates met for rare one-on-one talks as world powers began high-stakes discussions Thursday to demand a halt to Iran's nuclear activities, a U.S. official said.

Under Secretary of State William Burns met with Saeed Jalili, Tehran's chief negotiator, according to U.S. spokesman Robert Wood.

Western diplomats said the two discussed issues during a lunch break at Thursday's seven-nation talks in Geneva. Wood, and two Western diplomats who demanded anonymity for discussing the confidential information, declined to elaborate.

It is the first known direct high-level meeting between Washington and Tehran in years of attempts to persuade Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program. Iran says the program is peaceful, but some western nations fear it could eventually produce nuclear weapons.

The EU's Javier Solana, who is formally heading the one-day negotiations with Jalili, was upbeat before the start of the talks in an 18th century villa in Geneva.

The fact that the meeting is taking place at all offers some hope, reflecting both sides' desire to talk, despite a spike in tensions over last week's revelations by Iran that it had been secretly building a new uranium enrichment plant.

But with the U.S. and its allies contemplating new and tighter sanctions on Tehran, there are fears the negotiations may again end in failure.

In addition to the United States and Iran, the countries meeting Thursday include members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. The U.S. delegation is headed by William Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, and Iran's chief negotiator is Saeed Jalili.

The State Department stressed its hope that the session would open the door to more in-depth dialogue about ways Iran could alleviate concerns that its emerging nuclear program may be secretly developing nuclear weapons.

If Iran is willing to address the nuclear issues, then there likely will be subsequent meetings, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington.

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