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16:39 GMT +3 hours19 December 2014
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Russia ready to help with U.S.-Iran meeting at Moscow conference

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Russia is not aware of any plans for U.S. and Iranian diplomats to meet in Moscow on the sidelines of an ongoing conference on Afghanistan, but it is ready to help arrange such a meeting, the Foreign Ministry said.
MOSCOW, March 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is not aware of any plans for U.S. and Iranian diplomats to meet in Moscow on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan on Friday, but it is ready to help arrange such a meeting, the Foreign Ministry said.

"We have no such information, but if such an intention is announced, Russia as the host country is ready to provide any assistance that may be necessary," official ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Thursday.

The international conference on Afghanistan is to focus on efforts to counter terrorism and drug trafficking in the war-ravaged Central Asian state.

The conference will be held under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security group that comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Nesterenko said the U.S. delegation at the conference would be led by Patrick Moon, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, and the Iranian delegation would be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Akhondzadeh.

He said talks between U.S. and Iranian officials would "help ease tension around Iran as well as the situation in the region as a whole."

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it had no information about a possible meeting between Iranian and American diplomats in Moscow.

Russia has welcomed Washington's moves toward engagement with Tehran under President Barack Obama, including a video message of congratulations on the Iranian New Year.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last Friday that it was "important for us that the new [U.S.] administration is making advances to Tehran."

The first direct talks between senior U.S. and Iranian officials in almost 30 years were held in Baghdad last May, when the two countries' ambassadors to Iraq held talks strictly limited to the situation in the country.