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Deal To Remove Heavy Weapons From Ukraine 'Very Close'

Two weeks after a cease-fire that appears to have held in eastern Ukraine, Germany's foreign minister says the warring sides are "very close" to a broader agreement to remove heavy weapons from the front lines.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who met in Berlin with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and their Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, said the brief cease-fire had paved the way for moving toward a resolution of the crisis, set in motion by Russia's annexation of Crimea last year and its ongoing support for Ukrainian separatists.

"I can tell you with relief that our meeting today has been one of the less confrontational and more successful ones," Steinmeier said in a statement.

"Both sides are not far apart," the statement said.

Lavrov, speaking after the meeting, sounded a less optimistic note, saying that while the deal was "90 percent ready ... the devil is in the details."

The ministers agreed that the temporary truce, "'needs to be further strengthened and safeguarded' by a clear commitment to withdraw weapons from the conflict zone," according to The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ reports: "The ministers also made 'significant' progress on key political issues such as plans for local elections in rebel-held areas. A separate working group will draw up the modalities and timing of local elections, based on proposals that are already on the table, Mr. Steinmeier said. The working group should quickly discuss all other questions that are still contentious—such as the election process and constitutional issues—based on existing proposals, he said."

The cease-fire deal has halted fighting in Ukraine between government forces and Moscow-backed rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday he welcomed the truce.

"It's heartening that the main thing is the cessation of shelling of the Donbass (eastern Ukraine) from the side of the armed forces as well as the so-called volunteer battalions of Ukraine," he said in the Crimean town of Chersoneus, according to Reuters.

Leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are due again to meet at a summit on Oct. 2 in Paris.

As the BBC notes: "Ukraine is due to hold its elections on 25 October, while separatists in the rebel-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said they would hold their own votes on 18 October and 1 November respectively."

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