WASHINGTON – Direct bilateral talks between Iran and the United States will be “a timely opportunity” to try to advance a nuclear deal with world powers, a US official said Saturday.

“These consultations come at an important juncture of the negotiations,” the senior US administration official told AFP just after both sides announced that surprise talks would take place next week in Geneva.

A top European Union official will also participate in the meeting, US and EU officials said.

The talks will take place during a crunch time as Iran and the six world powers try to hammer out a difficult comprehensive treaty to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

An interim six-month deal, under which the US and its partners released some $7 billion frozen by tough sanctions in return for a slowdown in Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment program, expires on July 20.

And the last round of talks in Vienna, during which all sides had hoped to start drawing up the pact, ended with little progress.

The talks “will give us a timely opportunity to exchange views in the context of the next P5+ 1 round in Vienna,” the US official added, asking not to be named.

Significantly, the US delegation is due to be led by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and will include top White House adviser Jake Sullivan.

Both men were part of a tiny team who led many months of top secret negotiations with Iran in Oman in a bid to relaunch the stalled nuclear negotiations.

European Union Political Director Helga Schmid will also attend, according to Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who added: “Other bilaterals will follow in the next days.”

“We believe we need to engage in as much active diplomacy as we can to test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program,” the US official said.

The official insisted that the talks on Monday and Tuesday would not be negotiations, but “consultations to feed into the P5+1 process.”

The nuclear negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are being led by the five nuclear powers and Germany with Iran under the auspices of Ashton.

The direct Iran-US talks “are not a substitute for the P5+1 process, nor are they intended to establish a parallel track with Iran,” the official insisted.

“We, like other P5+1 states, see value in having bilateral consultations with Iran given our shared interest in reaching a comprehensive agreement to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

The official confirmed that there was no intention to raise other issues such as the war in Syria during the talks in Geneva.

It was also “natural” for Burns and Sullivan “to join the delegation for this meeting given their history of negotiating with Iran during the Joint Plan of Action talks.”