WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator in talks to curb Iran's nuclear program, will step down whenever the negotiations end, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.
It is conceivable Sherman could continue as under secretary of state for political affairs should the talks go well beyond a self-imposed June 30 deadline, Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said, but stressed that Washington had no plans to extend them.
Rathke declined to explain why Sherman, who has been in her post since September 2011 and has been the lead Iran negotiator for the last two years, announced her planned departure before what seen as a decisive and possibly conclusive round of talks.
The New York Times first reported her decision to depart.
"She's committed to staying on through the completion of the talks," Rathke said, adding, "by which we mean our goal of a joint comprehensive plan of action."
Rathke was referring to a possible agreement under which Iran would curtail its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.
He said it was theoretically possible that Sherman could stay on until January 2017, when the Obama administration is due to end, should the nuclear negotiations drag on that long but added "we're not contemplating an extension of the talks."
The United States, Israel and other nations suspect Iran is using its civil nuclear program as a cover for an effort to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is for solely peaceful purposes.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Sherman are scheduled to meet an Iranian team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva on Saturday to try to meet the June 30 deadline.
Six major powers are negotiating with Iran: the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The core talks, however, are between Iran and the United States.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Lisa Shumaker