Iran and six global powers have begun talks which are likely to exclude discussions on the imposition of fresh sanctions on Tehran.

The Russian news agency RIA-Novosti quoted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is in Moscow, as saying that new sanctions would not be discussed in the talks which are being held on the outskirts of Geneva. The agency said that Iran’s dialogue with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany is expected to continue on Friday.

Despite reservations in the Western media about the prospects of the talks, both sides have made positive symbolic gestures towards each other. The U.S. representative to the talks, William Burns, met separately with Saeed Jalili, Tehran’s chief negotiator, during the lunch-break on Thursday.

Ahead of the talks, the White House cleared the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Washington, apparently to meet the staff at Iran’s interest section maintained inside the Pakistani Embassy. An Iranian Foreign Minister was last allowed to make such a visit to Washington in the late 1990s.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran was ready to hold long-term discussions with the P5+1 “should talks follow a goal and bear fruits”, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported. Mr. Ahmadinejad described the talks as an “exceptional opportunity” for a few European countries and the U.S. to “amend the way they interact with other world nations”.

Analysts point out that Thursday’s meeting in unlikely to be a one-off encounter. Instead it is expected to start a “diplomatic process” which could, as it progresses, cover other issues such as developments in Iraq and the Lebanese Hizbollah, an anti-Israel group which is supported by Tehran.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted a U.S. official as saying that the first task of the Geneva talks “is to establish whether the Iranians are ready to engage on the nuclear issue”. Iran has declared that discussion on its nuclear programme was out of bounds, but it was, instead, ready for a thematic dialogue on disarmament, non-proliferation and other general security issues.

Press TV quoted a statement released by Iran’s National Security Council after the first round of talks that the meeting was held in a “calm atmosphere”.

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