MOSCOW, AP – Iran’s disputed nuclear program was on the agenda as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers from the world’s largest industrial democracies met in run-up to Russia’s debut as host to leaders of the Group of Eight nations next month.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and the European Union’s foreign policy chief plan to meet on July 5 to discuss a package of incentives from key global powers to try to persuade Iran to roll back its uranium enrichment program, a U.N. official said on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made.
An announcement of the meeting between the EU’s Javier Solana and Iran’s Ali Larijani was expected at Thursday’s meeting in Moscow.
The Larijani-Solana meeting would be the first since the EU official presented the incentive package to the Iranian negotiator in Tehran on June 6. Larijani said then that the proposals contained “positive steps” but talks were needed to clear up ambiguities.
Iran has not replied formally to a U.S. offer for the first high-level direct talks in more than a quarter of a century. The talks would be aimed at shuttering disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb while rewarding Iran with economic incentives and help developing civilian nuclear power.
The Bush administration had hoped for an answer before Thursday’s meeting, but the diplomats are not expected to issue any new firm deadline for a reply.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that Iran does not need negotiations with the United States over its nuclear program. Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters, did not give his position on the proposals presented to Iran earlier this month.
Rice said Russia’s democratic record and a list of issues in the Middle East would be on the agenda for Thursday’s gathering of diplomats from Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France, Canada and Japan were meeting in the Russian capital.
“We should also talk about democracy and the importance of democratic development, whether it is in Russia itself, where we hope that Russia would enhance its commitment to democratic development, but also in places like Belarus and places that have yet to see a democratic future,” Rice said Wednesday in an interview with CNN.
Washington has been critical of democratic retrenchment in Russia under President Vladimir Putin and had hoped to use the spotlight of the summit to keep up pressure for reform. The Bush administration has called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “Europe’s last dictator,” and last week imposed financial sanctions on him and other officials of the authoritarian government.
Despite widespread international criticism, Lukashenko enjoys Moscow’s backing.
Rice also said the ongoing governing crisis in the Palestinian territories and democratic advances in Iraq and Afghanistan will be topics Thursday.
“We’ll talk about how the international community can support the new Iraqi government, the first democratically elected government in Iraq that really now has asked the international community for its support,” Rice said, adding that she believed the ministers could make “a firm statement about that.”