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G8 Meeting On Afghanistan Now Overshadowed By Iran

  • Antoine Blua

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki won't be traveling to Trieste.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki won't be traveling to Trieste.

A three-day meeting of G8 foreign ministers opens today in Italy's Adriatic city of Trieste.

The Italian Foreign Ministry had originally announced that the meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations would center on Afghanistan and the international community's commitment to seeking a solution to the region's challenges.

But Iran's postelection violence has caused a shift in focus for the meeting, which is tasked with laying the groundwork for the G8 summit in L'Aquila on July 8-10.

" 'La Repubblica,' one of the most influential newspapers in Italy, ran with a headline that Trieste would be the place where Iran would appear before international [judgment]," says Radio Farda correspondent Ahmad Rafat, who is in Trieste. "So Iran jumped into the conference as the main subject. Even the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, yesterday said, ‘We cannot ignore what is going on in Iran.' "

The G8 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

'No Plans' To Attend

Iran had originally been invited to participate in the Trieste meeting as a neighbor of Afghanistan, together with Pakistan, China, and India.

But following the country's postelection violence, Iran's foreign minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, confirmed on June 24 that he had "no plans" to travel to Italy.

An Italian Foreign Ministry statement quoted Frattini as expressing regret that Iran had "lost an occasion to make a really positive contribution" to the G8 proceedings.

Reports say the summit would also have offered a chance for G8 officials to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear program with Iranian diplomats.

Tensions between Tehran and the West have risen since Iran's disputed June 12 election.

Iran accuses Western countries, who have raised doubts over the legitimacy of the country's election, of interfering in its internal affairs and says it may downgrade its ties with London.

Iran and Britain expelled two diplomats this week. Iran expelled a BBC correspondent from Tehran and arrested a British-Greek journalist working for a U.S. newspaper.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest and at least 17 people have died in the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Tehran says the election results are accurate and the protests illegal.

Russia Likely Opposed

Rafat says the Iranian leadership's stance is expected to be condemned by individual G8 members, but likely not by the group itself:

"Most probably there will be [communiques] from several ministers about this issue," Rafat says. "But it's very difficult to say if the G8 will issue a [common] communique condemning Iran for what is going on there. Most probably Russia will oppose an official condemnation of the Iranian government."

Among the G8 members, Russia has notably refrained from condemning Tehran, saying the postelection turmoil is an internal matter.

The Trieste meeting begins with a working dinner of G8 ministers. Overall, the gathering will be attended by some 40 representatives from governments and international organizations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is recovering from surgery on a broken elbow, has skipped the meeting. William Burns, the under secretary for political affairs, will attend in her place.

Also attending will be the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke; U.S. special envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell; and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The working sessions dedicated to Afghanistan will focus on border management, the fight against illegal trafficking, refugees and migrants, economic development and infrastructure, and agriculture and food security.

The meeting comes as Western nations pledged to ensure security in Afghanistan for the country's August presidential elections by sending in extra troops. It also comes amid calls to shift from a military strategy in Afghanistan to one focused mainly on reconstruction, and to improve coordination between all the players in the country.

The meeting is also due to tackle global challenges such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, transnational organized crime, and piracy.