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Ministers Converge On Geneva Amid Breakthrough Hopes

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meeting in Geneva on November 22.
The foreign ministers of six world powers are convening in Geneva amid hopes of a breakthrough in talks with Iran over that country's disputed nuclear program.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Geneva on November 22, while his counterparts from France, Britain, Germany, China, and the United States announced they are travelling to the talks for meetings on November 23.

"You know the position of the six -- the five permanent members plus Germany, the Security Council plus Germany: our position is firm, but we also wish to find a solution," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris on November 22 before leaving for Geneva:

The announcements came as an EU diplomat told journalists that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made "progress" on "core issues" during talks on November 22.

Chinese media quoted a Foreign Ministry source as saying the talks "have reached the final moment."

The so-called P5+1 group is offering Iran limited relief from sanctions in exchange for a suspension of some aspects of its nuclear program, which they suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

One key stumbling block has been Iran's insistence on recognition of its "right" to enrich uranium. The P5+1 countries do not recognize such a right, and the negotiators are seeking a compromise formulation.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki discussed the issue with journalists in Washington on November 22.

"We have said we are open to Iran having a peaceful [nuclear] program," Psaki said. "Obviously, this is part of what is being discussed in the negotiations. We don’t recognize that any country has a right to enrich [uranium]. That's been our policy for decades. Iran has been saying, I believe for decades, that they believe they have the right to enrich. So what we are working through is whether those two positions can be reconciled through the negotiations and through an agreement. And that’s what we’re hopeful of."

Zarif told journalists Friday that some three or four other differences remain, including Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor and the extent of the sanctions relief being offered. Some proposals include releasing Iran's funds frozen in foreign bank accounts and allowing trade in metals, petrochemicals, and aircraft parts.

Tehran is seeking a more sweeping easing of sanctions against its oil industry and a lifting of restrictions on its use of international banking.

It is the second time in two weeks that the foreign ministers of the P5+1 countries have converged on Geneva amid hopes of an agreement in the long-stalled talks

(Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP)