US looking for "first step" from Iran in nuclear talks

Washington willing to offer limited sanctions relief

The United States increased pressure on Iran on Wednesday to agree in the next two days a "first step" nuclear deal that would see it halt expansion of its atomic programme and reverse parts of it.

On the eve of two-day talks with world powers, a senior US administration official said that Washington could, in return, offer Iran "very limited, temporary, reversible" relief on the sanctions imposed to pressure Tehran to stop the nuclear activities that the West fears are weapons-related.

"For the first time, Iran appears to be committed to moving this negotiation process forward quickly," the official said on condition of anonymity, adding: "nothing is yet agreed to (and) there are gaps between the two sides which remain quite real."

The Geneva talks are the second round of negotiations that started in the Swiss city last month, seeking to build on a diplomatic opening created by the June election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's new president, promising to open a fresh dialogue with the West.

Washington has called the last session productive, in contrast to previous meetings at which, Western participants said, the Iranians often read out long speeches that had little or nothing to do with their nuclear programme.

This week's meeting between Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - and Germany (P5+1) should aim to build on that, the official said.

"What we're looking for is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran's nuclear programme from moving forward and rolls it back for first time in decades."

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