Iran tops agenda at G8 ministers’ meeting

Nick Coleman
MOSCOW, June 29, 2006 (AFP) – Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight countries stepped up pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme at a meeting here Thursday, as Moscow sought to prevent next month’s G8 summit becoming a magnet for criticism of Russia’s democratic credentials.

The meeting at a mansion in central Moscow was seen as one of the last opportunities to iron out differences ahead of the July 15-17 summit in Saint Petersburg of leaders of the G8, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he would meet Iranian officials to discuss proposals by the UN Security Council members plus Germany aimed at allaying Western concerns about Tehran’s nuclear programme.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy confirmed that Solana would hold the meeting with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani next Wednesday.

"On the basis of the results of this meeting we will see if there will be a second meeting or not," Douste-Blazy said, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the G8 gathering.

Douste-Blazy said Iran must reply to the international plan before the July 15-17 G8 summit.

"It seems clear to me that Iran must say yes. Then there will be negotiations," Douste-Blazy said.

"I note with satisfaction the unity of the G8 on the Iranian issue. The whole world has accepted the idea of the need to be firm with the Iranians and that Javier Solana should take this message of the international community" to the Iranians, he said.

A Western diplomat said the ministers were also discussing the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East, as well as combating terrorism, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Balkans as well as a number of ex-Soviet states, including Belarus and Georgia.

Russia has played a significant role in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme, being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a close ally of Tehran, as well as constructing Iran’s first nuclear power station.

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday underlined his differences with the West on the Iran issue however, saying Russia did not intend "to join any sort of ultimatum, which only pushes the situation into a dead end".