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Iranian Foreign Minister in Moscow to Discuss Terrorism, Oil


Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi is in Moscow for high-level talks expected to include international terrorism, a dispute over oil rights in the Caspian Sea and a lucrative nuclear power deal.

The two days of talks are expected to focus on a wide array of topics, including ongoing international efforts to fight terrorism, the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Afghanistan.

Iran has received widespread praise for its constructive role in ushering in Afghanistan's post-Taleban interim government and for offering badly needed reconstruction assistance. But, it has come under criticism from the United States as an alleged sponsor of terrorism. President Bush recently branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil." Washington accuses Tehran of seeking to obtain and develop weapons of mass destruction, of harboring remnants of Taleban and al-Qaida fighters and of inflaming the violence in the Middle East. Iran vehemently denies the charges.

At the start of his Moscow visit, Mr. Kharazi said his country does support the Palestinian uprising and he strongly criticized American support for Israel. But, Mr. Kharazi seemed to dismiss a recent proposal by Iraq to use oil exports as a weapon against the United States and Israel. Mr. Kharazi said such a policy would only work if all Muslim oil exporters take part.

Foreign Minister Kharazi has said Washington is wrong to equate Palestinian suicide bombers with the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks against the United States. He said Palestinians are carrying out a justified struggle against Israeli occupation.

Another issue up for discussion in Moscow is a nearly $1 billion nuclear power deal. Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear reactor, which the two countries say will be used only for civilian purposes. But, the deal has angered Washington, which fears the facility could be used to produce nuclear weapons. Moscow and Tehran initially signed the nuclear power deal in 1995, but progress has been delayed - in part because of the dispute with the United States over the facility.

Another contentious issue concerns oil rights in the Caspian Sea. In the past, Iran and the then-Soviet Union had treaties regulating use of the area's oil riches. But, now, the countries bordering the Caspian Sea - Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan - have yet to work out how to divide up the sea's vast oil wealth. A summit to discuss the issue is scheduled for late April in Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat.

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