Iran tops agenda at G8 ministers’ meeting

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced satisfaction that the ministers at Thursday’s meeting had approved the agenda and documents for next month’s summit.

"The documents on the three priority subjects — energy security, infectious diseases and educational development — have been completely approved," Lavrov said.

But amid reports that Moscow wants to limit discussion of its human rights record or commitment to democracy at next month’s summit, a senior Kremlin official defended Russia’s role in ex-communist Europe ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

"Moscow has done much more for democracy in central Europe than Washington or London," said the deputy head of Putin’s office, Vladislav Surkov, on Wednesday. "It’s Moscow which democratised this immense space."

Four US lawmakers on Tuesday urged President George W. Bush to rebuke Putin over the "deterioration of democracy" in his country.

It was important that the other G8 heads of state "make clear that Russia’s actions are inconsistent with G8 democratic norms," read a letter signed by Democratic Representative Tom Lantos and Republican David Dreier, together with senators John McCain, a Republican, and Democrat Joe Lieberman.

An analyst close to the Kremlin, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Research, Sergei Markov, said earlier he expected Thursday’s meeting to be "rather tense".

"Russia will want to know that nothing unexpected will happen at the G8 summit," said Markov. "America has been permanently attacking Russia recently."