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G8 foreign ministers focus on Iran, Mideast at Moscow talks

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Iran's controversial nuclear programs and the escalating crisis in the Middle East dominated talks between foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Moscow Thursday.
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Iran's controversial nuclear programs and the escalating crisis in the Middle East dominated talks between foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Moscow Thursday.

With Moscow in its debut year as G8 president, some observers had suggested that energy would figure high on the agenda of the talks, particularly in light of some calls overseas to expel Russia from the club for its allegedly poor record on democracy and use of its mineral resources to blackmail other states.

But the ministers turned their sights on Iran, saying they expected to hear a "clear and substantive response" from the Islamic Republic to a package of incentives drafted by the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany on securing a suspension of uranium from Tehran over concerns about a covert military program.

"We are disappointed by the absence of an official Iranian response to this positive proposal," an official statement form the ministers said.

With European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana set to meet with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on July 5, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he expected a reaction in the near future.

"We have supported the position of six countries that handed a package of proposals to Tehran and hope to receive soon a concrete answer to the proposals from Tehran," said Lavrov, who acted as the host of today's meeting,

Russia is presiding over the G8 this year, and the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and Canada will join President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg for a July 15-17 summit.

Solana delivered the proposals to Tehran on June 6. But with his country facing international sanctions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said earlier this month that Tehran would only respond to the proposals in mid-August, which his foreign minister confirmed Thursday.

The ministers in Moscow also called on North Korea, which announced it developed nuclear weapons in 2005, to immediately return to talks on the Korean peninsula's nuclear-free status with no preliminary conditions.

The last round of talks between North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, took place in September 2005. Pyongyang then agreed to abandon the program in exchange for aid and security guarantees, but later refused to rejoin the talks until Washington lifted financial sanctions.

Middle East

With a new outbreak of violence flaring in the Middle East, the G8 ministers urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to return to peace talks.

The ministers called on the Palestinian leaders to end violence and release an abducted Israeli soldier, while urging Israel to show restraint and avoid arrests of Palestinian officials after the detention of Palestinian Cabinet members and lawmakers during raids in Gaza intended to free the soldier abducted Sunday.

"The G8 foreign ministers are calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make every effort to defuse the situation and create conditions for a resumption of talks," Lavrov said after the meeting.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority stalled following radical movement Hamas won a landslide victory in the PA in January. Hostilities have since resumed in the region, with Palestinian radicals staging bomb attacks and the Israelis conducting air and other raids on Palestinian lands.

Russia's energy supplies

With Russia coming under attack in recent months for allegedly backsliding on democracy using its vast energy supplies to blackmail smaller neighbors, calls have been made in the U.S. and other countries to kick it out of the club of rich nations.

But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the issue had not been raised in Moscow and added that President George W. Bush was planning to attend the summit, which she described as important

Lavrov defended his country's record as an energy supplier, which was tarnished after a bitter dispute over prices for natural gas with Ukraine in January. Energy giant Gazprom then briefly cut off gas supplies to its former Soviet neighbor in a move that affected some consumers in Europe, as, according to the Russian company, Ukraine started tapping Europe-bound gas.

The minister said Russia had been a reliable supplier for 40 years and was willing to address its consumers' concerns.

"We fully support the idea of the necessity to be governed by unified rules of the game, and these rules should be defined by the market," he said. "This is 100% Russia's position."

"But we also want guarantees on stable demand [on the energy market]," he said. "We have violated no contracts not even by one gram nor a cubic millimeter. We would like this reliability to be appreciated and would like to have reliable consumers."

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