Senior Iranian and US officials were poised to hold direct talks in Geneva yesterday aimed at bridging gaps on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme ahead of a July deadline for a deal.
For the Islamic republic, the goal is to make a leap towards ending the international sanctions that have battered its economy. For Washington and its allies, the aim is to make certain that what Iran says is a peaceful atomic power programme is not a covert attempt to build a nuclear bomb.
The talks were expected to last two days and begin at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) in the Intercontinental, an upscale Geneva hotel.
It is a traditional venue for closed-door diplomatic negotiations, most recently hosting sessions on Syria and Ukraine.
Abbas Araqchi, Iran's vice foreign minister and nuclear pointman, said Sunday that the tete-a-tete with US officials was essential as the negotiations are delicately poised.
The Geneva meeting marks the first time since the 1980s that Tehran and Washington have held official, direct talks on the nuclear issue outside the wider P5+1 process.
The P5+1 group of permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany have long sought to reach a settlement over Iran's nuclear programme.
But with the last round of talks in Vienna in May yielding little, there has been concern that the process is stalling.
The announcement on Saturday of the Geneva meeting came as a surprise, but appeared to confirm the need for secondary steps to close big gaps between Tehran and Washington.