TRIESTE, Italy (AFP) — Russia warned Thursday against isolating Iran as Group of Eight foreign ministers opened talks in Italy expected to condemn post-election violence in the Islamic republic.
Tensions have been rising between Iran and the West over the Islamic regime’s suppression of mass street protests sparked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested re-election.
“Isolating Iran is the wrong approach,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following talks with his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini in the northeastern city of Trieste.
Asked whether the G8 should harshly criticise Iran for its crackdown, Lavrov answered “no one wants to condemn” Tehran and insisted that the international community should maintain dialogue.
Lavrov’s comments came as G8 ministers began three days of talks dominated by the crisis in Iran.
Russia has refused to condemn Iran for the turmoil since the June 12 poll, calling it an internal matter, but Moscow has called on Tehran to resolve the dispute peacefully through constitutional means.
Frattini said the G8 was working on “a good document that would include condemnation… but at the same time one that will recognise that electoral procedures are an Iranian question.”
The Italian foreign minister earlier voiced confidence that the world powers would stand together in condemning the Islamic regime over violence that has left at least 17 dead, according to state media.
“Iran is at a turning point,” Frattini said. “It must now choose whether or not it wants to keep the door open to dialogue with the international community.
“Because the open hand from the United States, that we supported, must not be greeted with a hand covered in blood,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner acknowledged that there was not full agreement on condemning the regime in Iran but said a firmly-worded statement was needed.
“At the G8 tonight, we will try — a text is being examined and not everyone is in favour of condemnation — but we do need in Trieste a firm statement. We will do this,” Kouchner said in Paris before departing.
The Group of Eight — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — kicked off the gathering with a working dinner at the Palazzo della Regione in the city overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and other EU officials will be joining the opening meeting but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is recovering from an elbow injury, will not attend.
Clinton will be represented by the State Department’s number three William Burns, who was due to hold bilateral talks with Lavrov later Thursday.
The meeting had been initially scheduled to focus on stabilising Afghanistan, and host Italy had extended a rare invitation to Iran to join the G8 as a regional player.
But Tehran turned down the invitation as it faced strong condemnation from the West over violence against protesters, arrests of opposition members and a media clampdown.
On Friday, an expanded G8 meeting with regional players will be held to shore up peace efforts in Afghanistan as the Taliban insurgency rages on, nearly eight years after the Islamic militia was ousted from Kabul.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to attend a meeting of the diplomatic quartet on the Middle East on Friday in a bid to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian talks.
The foreign ministers’ meeting, which ends on Saturday, is laying the groundwork for the G8 summit in two weeks in L’Aquila, the Italian mountain city devastated by an earthquake in April.