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Russia: G8 Foreign Ministers Meet To Map Out Summit Agenda

The G8 ministers in an official photograph (epa) Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries descended on Moscow today for a meeting ahead of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg on July 15-17. Topping the agenda were Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

MOSCOW, June 29, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that today's meeting would look ahead to the agenda of the St. Petersburg summit.

The standoff over Iran's nuclear program took center stage.

G8 foreign ministers stepped up pressure on Tehran to respond to a package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its uranium-enrichment activities, which the United States say are aimed at building nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.

Ministers delivered a statement urging Tehran to give a "clear and substantive response" to the proposal made on June 6 by the five veto-wielding UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China -- plus Germany.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters after the meeting that the six countries expected a response from Tehran next week, when European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana meets his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani.

"We expect a response from Iran, an official response. We would hope for a serious response. Javier Solana will meet with Mr. Larijani on July 5. We will then assess where we are. But I think you will note that the statement also expresses some disappointment that we have not yet heard from the Iranians on what we consider to be a very favorable offer," Rice said.

Gaza Offensive

The ministers also urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise "utmost restraint" in the escalating conflict caused by the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. Israeli forces have begun a military offensive in the Gaza Strip to free the captive.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for the soldier's release and urged both sides to deescalate the conflict: "We reiterated our support for the position of the quartet of international mediators, called on the parties to take all necessary measures to calm the situation and create conditions for ensuring security and resuming a negotiation process based on the 'road map.'"

Kremlin Criticism

The United States also turned its attention to Russia. Washington has repeatedly criticized the Kremlin for rolling back on democracy and meddling in the politics of former Soviet countries, with some in the United States even calling for Russia's exclusion from the G8.

Rice voiced concern over recent Russian moves to tighten control over nongovernmental organizations and independent media.

The official logo of the upcoming summit

She also said the international community was worried about the reliability of Russian energy supplies after Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine following a row on tariffs.

"It is perfectly appropriate for a big energy supplier like Russia to have a discussion with many who are indeed very dependent on reliable energy supply on how that reliability for supply is going to be maintained, and that it is going to be maintained without reference to any political motive but rather to market forces," Rice said.

Today's talks touched on a series of other international issues, namely the situation in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and on the tensions surrounding North Korea's nuclear program.

Lavrov also told reporters that G8 foreign ministers backed direct negotiations between Prishtina and Belgrade on the Kosovo conflict.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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