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May 27, 11:05 PM EDT

Kerry, Iran's Zarif to focus on nuclear deal in weekend meeting as deadline for accord nears



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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top U.S. and Iranian diplomats plan to meet this weekend in Switzerland as efforts intensify to reach a comprehensive nuclear accord.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will hold talks Saturday in Geneva.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Wednesday that the goal is to make progress toward an agreement by an end-of-June deadline.

European and Iranian officials have suggested the talks may require more time, but Rathke said the U.S. isn't considering an extension.

The State Department said Wednesday that its lead nuclear negotiator, undersecretary Wendy Sherman, will leave when the negotiations with Iran are finished.

Sherman has led much of the technical discussion in Europe with Iranian officials over the last two years. During her tenure the U.S. and Iran reached an interim agreement in November 2013 and a framework pact in April.

Kerry called Sherman a "critical" member of his team, hailing her "tenacity and skill."

Kerry leaves Washington on Thursday for Nigeria, where he'll attend Muhammadu Buhari's presidential inauguration.

From Geneva, Kerry will head to Madrid to meet with Spain's king and prime minister. Later, Kerry will attend a conference in Paris on fighting the Islamic State group.

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