Foreign ministers of the G8 nations are meeting in Italy on Thursday for talks focused on Afghanistan. But the Iranian crisis and the absence of the Iranian foreign minister threatens to throw a spanner in the plans for substantive discussions.
AFP - G8 foreign ministers gathered in the Adriatic city of Trieste on Thursday for three days of talks overshadowed by the crackdown in Iran as they seek to shore up efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.
Tensions have been rising between Iran and the West over the Islamic regime's suppression of mass street protests sparked by President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's contested re-election.
The meeting had been initally scheduled to focus on stabilising Afghanistan and host-country Italy had extended a rare invitation to Iran to join the Group of Eight club of world power as a key player in the region.
But Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki turned down the invitation as his government faced strong condemnation from the West over violence against protesters, arrests of opposition members and a media clampdown.
A mourning ceremony for protesters slain in the post-election turmoil was called off in Tehran on Thursday while supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed he would not back down in the face of protests.
"I am certain that we will condemn these very serious violations to the right to life and to the physical integrity of persons," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini late Wednesday.
"We will reassert that these acts further isolate Iran from the international community, something that we do not want," Frattini was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying.
The United States is pushing for a common stance on Iran at the meeting that formally begins with a working dinner of the G8 ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and other EU officials will be joining the opening meeting held at the Palazzo della Regione in the city overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
"It would be impossible not to discuss current events at this meeting and just stick to broader nuclear agendas, as if nothing had changed," a US official said ahead of the talks.
"This will be an opportunity for foreign ministers... to compare notes on what's happening in Iran and to then perhaps think about how that might affect our long-term strategy that was initially the agenda," he added.
Reaching consensus on Iran however is shaping up as a delicate diplomatic exercise, with Frattini pointedly noting that "the door between the West and Iran must not be closed shut."
Among G8 members, Russia has refused to condemn Iran, saying the election turmoil was an internal matter while calling for a peaceful resolution.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is recovering from an elbow injury and will not be attending the talks. She will be represented by the State Department's number three William Burns.
Clinton discussed the situation in Iran in a round of telephone talks with her British, French and German counterparts this week as President Barack Obama toughened his criticism of the Islamic regime.
Washington's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and the Middle East troubleshooter George Mitchell are attending the talks.
On Friday, an expanded meeting of the G8 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.
The meeting attended by some 40 representatives from governments and international organisations will focus on border security, drug trafficking, refugees and food security.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to attend a meeting on Friday of the diplomatic quartet on the Middle East -- the European Union, the United States and the United Nations -- to try to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian talks.
The 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.
Date created : 2009-06-25