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GENEVA, November 20, /ITAR-TASS/. A new round of P5+1 talks (five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on Tehran's nuclear program begins here on Wednesday against the background of expectations that this meeting of political directors and, possibly, of ministers subsequently, will yield specific results.
Most analysts agree that Western countries and Iran have established such an intensive dialogue that it would be utterly imprudent to miss this chance. The circumstance that only eleven days have passed since the completion of the latest round is an added proof that that the negotiating process, which has been just middling for more than a decade, has moved off the dead center and gathered momentum.
The sides that met in Geneva on Nov. 7-9 (at the level of political directors at first, and then at the level of Foreign ministers), almost reached agreement which is needed by both the West, which demands guarantees that Iran's nuclear program does not pursue military goals, and Iran the economy of which is strongly affected by large-scale sanctions.
At the close of the previous round of the talks it became clear that the fiasco was caused by the lack of unity inside the "five-plus-one" group. In particular, various sources reported that France suddenly stiffened its demands. Both the Iranian side and the Sextet partners proved unprepared for that.
Literally on the eve of the new round, French President Francois Hollande stated while on a visit in Israel that Paris continues to stick to a tough attitude with regard to Tehran. Hollande made public four conditions for achieving an "intermediate agreement" on Iran's nuclear program. "The first demand is that Iran's all available nuclear facilities should be immediately placed under international safeguards; the second condition is that enrichment (of uranium) must be stopped at the level of 20 percent; thirs -- the existing stocks of uranium must be reduced, and finally, that the construction of the (nuclear) center at Arak be discontinued," the French president stated.
In view of this, all attempts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to create the impression that the Sextet speaks in one voice and acts in a united front look somewhat awkward. The more so as Washington official in recent days speak of the talks in a highly careful manner and even optimistically, rather, stating that they consider the conclusion of an agreement quite possible.
There are positive expectations about the upcoming round of the talks in Moscow as well. Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, expressed an opinion that there has appeared a "real chance" to find a solution to the yeard-long ptoblrm of monitoring by the international community of Iran's nuclear program. Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, for his part, said, "For the first time in many years both the Sextet and Iran are ready to not simply present their positions, which in most cases do not intersect with each other, but also look for points of contact". "Such points of contact have been determined, and there are currently no principled differences over issues which must be tackled in practice," the Minister said. "This refers to the need properly to formalize the achieved understanding in diplomatic language so that it would be truly a joint document, not one imposed on someone from the outside".
As for sanctions, the lifting of which Iran presses for; no specific information has filtered into the press. At the same time Washington says that at the first stage of understanding the economic sanctions may be slackened only inconsiderably. White House press secretary Jay Carney described as strong exaggerated the reports that Western countries might unfreeze Iran's bank assets by $15-20 billion as the first step.
Some experts are of the opinion that an amount in the environs of $3 billion, as well as a slackening of sanctions equivalent to $6 billion may be referred to.
The present round of the talks was originally planned to be held at the level of political directors. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policvy, is traditionally the coordinator in this respect. Iran is represented by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will arrive in Geneva to represent Russia.
However, it is not ruled out that, just as was the case early in November, the level of the talks will be raise to ministerial one. Lavrov, commenting on his telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry, said, "Depending on the way work will proceed we shall be ready, just as was the case last time, to organize a ministerial segment of the meeting so as to see whether we have got a basis for accord".
Wednesday's talks will begin with a bilateral meeting between Ashton and Zarif. The new round of the talks is supposedly to come to a close on Friday, Nov. 22. However, many journalists, who arrive in Switzerland to cover the negotiating round, have taken air tickets with an open date to be on the safe side.