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G8 ministers meet, Iran to dominate

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, June 29 (Reuters) Foreign ministers from the G8 leading industrialised countries met today for talks widely expected to focus on how to press Iran to respond quickly to proposals to defuse a crisis over its nuclear programme.

Iran has still not said whether it will accept a package of incentives put forward on June 6 in Vienna by Germany and the five permanent, veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

The United States has accused Iran of having a secret programme to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is solely for power generation.

''We'll talk about the Iranian situation, I'm certain,'' U S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters. The Group of Eight talks in Moscow will also be attended by foreign ministers from Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Britain.

The incentives are conditional on Iran forgoing large-scale uranium enrichment and answering questions about its programme.

But there were signs of possible divisions among Western powers after Germany's defence minister said in an interview with Reuters that Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium for power generation under close monitoring by U N inspectors.

The United States, which along with Britain has argued for a suspension of uranium enrichment, contacted the German government to clarify the comments. A German government spokesman said Berlin stood by the June 6 call for a suspension of enrichment in order to enable talks.

The foreign ministers started talks at 1200 hrs IST, ahead of which the British, French and German ministers -- the so-called ''EU3'' who spearhead European diplomacy on Iran -- held separate talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The United States and the European Union have called for an Iranian reply in ''weeks, not months'' after Tehran said it would respond by August 22. They suggested they would like a response before a summit of G8 leaders on July 15-17.

A G8 source, who declined to be named, said the foreign ministers were likely to discuss how best to persuade Iran to respond.

Russia, which has signed up to the incentive package but supports Tehran having a civilian nuclear programme, was unlikely to want to see the July summit overshadowed by Iran, said the source.

The Kremlin is pushing for energy security to be the main topic at the summit in Russia's second city of St Petersburg.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday Iran would be discussed by the foreign ministers.

''Of course we will speak again about our offer,'' she said. ''We do hope the Iranians will very soon come back with an answer ... I think it is important that the Vienna package gets a wider endorsement at the meeting tomorrow.'' The United States, the European Union, Russia and China have warned Iran the U.N. Security Council will act if it does not suspend uranium enrichment.

But they have set no deadline and Moscow and Beijing oppose sanctions.

Reuters SY DB1249

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