BRUSSELS -- U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns held talks Thursday with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to prepare a key meeting with Iran's top nuclear negotiator this weekend.
Solana's spokeswoman said that the State Department's third ranked official and the EU's top diplomat spoke in Brussels Thursday morning, ahead of talks with Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva on Saturday.
It will be the first time that Washington, which broke off relations with Iran in 1980, has participated in the negotiations aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of incentives.
"Mr Solana told Mr Burns that his participation could only have a positive impact," said the spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach. "We hope the Iranians are going to understand the importance of this decision" to attend.
Solana also spoke by telephone with representatives from the four other permanent UN Security Council members and Germany -- the so-called 5+1 group -- who will also take part.
A senior US official said Wednesday that Burns "is there to listen, not to negotiate," but his presence at the table meets a long-standing demand from Iran to have the United States involved.
The Europeans have been running these "talks about talks" since 2006, when Solana made a first offer to Tehran on behalf of the major powers of political and economic incentives in exchange for an end to enrichment.
Enrichment is a process for powering a nuclear reactor, but at highly refined levels the uranium can be used to build the core of an atom bomb, which many countries fear the Islamic Republic is trying to covertly develop.
Iran says its nuclear aims are only peaceful and has refused to sit down at the negotiating table if it has to suspend uranium enrichment even before the talks begin.
Solana returned to Iran last month with a revamped offer, with the major powers offering to help Tehran end its international isolation and acquire more modern civilian nuclear technologies.
But while Iran's reaction since then has been more positive, the presence of Burns does not guarantee any breakthrough in Geneva.
After two years of virtually fruitless dialogue, the powers are extremely cautious about whether progress will be made this time, even with Iran labouring under three sets of UN sanctions.