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Caution at Geneva talks on Iranian nuclear program

Geneva is hosting another attempt to clinch a landmark deal between world powers and Iran, aimed at freezing parts of its atomic program. Diplomats are cautious amid hopes of a breakthrough.

Iranian negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said early Thursday he anticipated "serious and detailed" talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the wake of delays prompted by French objections at talks 10 days ago.

Iran's news agency ISNA quoted Zarif, who is Iran's foreign minister, as saying he expected the "beginning of negotiations to examine how to finalize the draft."

Diplomats insisted that all six powers - the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, otherwise known as the P5+1 - were united despite intense lobbying by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avert a "bad deal."

Israel wants a total and permanent disarmament of Iran's nuclear facilities before any lifting of international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to calm fears that Iran might still be left with weapons capabilities, saying the US wanted an agreement that addressed "our core, fundamental concerns."

'Differences remain'

Referring to the last encounter that ended inconclusively on November 9, EU spokesman Michael Mann said late Wednesday: "A lot of progress was made, but differences remain."

Experts in Geneva warned that Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani, elected earlier this year, risked losing the support of Iranian arch-conservatives if Iran's negotiators failed to secure substantial relief from sanctions.

Currently, as much as 10 billion dollars (7.5 billion euros) of Iran's foreign exchange reserves are frozen in Western bank accounts.

The planned deal, seeking moves from both sides within six months to a year, could require Iran to freeze its production of 20-percent enriched uranium and place its stockpile under international monitoring.

Over the years, Iran has claimed that its program is for peaceful purposes such as power generation.

ipj/msh (IPS, AFP, Reuters)