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G8 Foreign Ministers Demand Reply from Iran on Nuclear Talks

Foreign Ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations are calling on Iran to respond to an international proposal aimed at ending the standoff with the West over its controversial nuclear program. During closed door talks in Moscow, the ministers also prepared the agenda for the G8 summit next month in St. Petersburg.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says G8 foreign ministers expect Iran to formally respond to the Western proposal for talks in the nearest future.

Mr. Lavrov, whose nation has been trying to use its influence with Iran to break the impasse, announced that the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, will meet with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, July 5, to review the issue.

The proposal on the table reportedly offers Tehran various incentives, in return for its agreement to halt its uranium enrichment program, which Washington and Europe fear could be used to build a nuclear weapon.

Foreign Minister Lavrov says total agreement also was reached on the three priority subjects at next month's summit: energy security, education and infectious diseases.

Lavrov says the ministers also discussed North Korea, Afghanistan, North Africa, Iraq and the Middle East.

The foreign ministers from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia say they are in agreement that the al-Qaida terrorists who claim to have killed four Russian diplomats in Iraq must be found and brought to justice. They also called for calm to be restored to the West Bank and Gaza, where recent kidnappings and arrests have sparked violence.

Analyst Yevgeni Volk of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow tells VOA, Russian President Vladimir Putin's primary goal, as host of next month's summit, is to avoid any serious rebuke by the West over what some say is Russia's back-tracking on democratic reform.

"I believe some things, which have been done by Mr. Putin in [the] last five or six years have been a serious challenge to Western values, and I believe this question will inevitably be a topic of serious discussion," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hopes for a strengthening of democracy not only in Russia, but also Belarus and beyond, to Central Asia.

Russian officials are also reported concerned that Western leaders will try to put separatist regional conflicts, like those simmering in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on the summit's public agenda.

Topping the issues that Russian officials would like to focus on are energy security and the fight against terrorism.