Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks yesterday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran's atomic activities by a new deadline in late November.
The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept 18.
The deadline was extended until Nov 24 after six months of talks because wide gaps persisted over the future scope of Iran's uranium enrichment programme, which can have both civilian and military applications.
The six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain - aim to persuade Iran to scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for phasing out sanctions that have severely hurt its oil-dependent economy.
The election last year of President Hassan Rohani, widely seen as a pragmatist, raised hopes of a settlement of the stand-off after years of tension and fears of a new Middle East war, and an interim accord was reached between Iran and the six powers in Geneva late last year.
But Western diplomats say the sides remain far apart on what a final deal should look like - especially on the issue of how many enrichment centrifuges Iran can operate - and that a successful outcome in the negotiations is far from guaranteed.
Western countries suspect Iran's programme is aimed at seeking the capability to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says it is a peaceful project to generate electricity.