G8 Ministers Blast Iran Violence

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations expressed solidarity Friday with those who suffered repression while peacefully demonstrating in Iran. But they stopped short of questioning the outcome of Iran's election.

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The Group of Eight industrialized nations met in Italy today. The foreign ministers urged Iran to end its violent crackdown on protesters, but they stopped short of questioning the election results. And on the sidelines of the meeting, the group known as the Quartet of Middle East Peace Negotiators urged Israel to freeze Jewish settlements.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Trieste.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: This meeting of G8 foreign ministers was originally supposed to focus on stabilization of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the agenda on the first day was dominated by post-election violence in Iran. The ministers' statement expressed solidarity for those who suffered repression while peacefully demonstrating, and it urged Iran to respect fundamental human rights.

At a press conference, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the G8 remained committed to engagement with Iran. But he stressed that the violence used against protesters is unacceptable.

Mr. DAVID MILIBAND (Foreign Secretary, Great Britain): The killings and the beatings are deplorable and they show a failure to protect their own people. What is important is that we see that today there is a crisis of credibility, not between Iran and the West, but between the Iranian counting of the votes and the Iranian people.

POGGIOLI: Miliband, whose government expelled two Iranian diplomats earlier this week, after Iran did the same to two British envoys, rejected Tehran's accusations of Western involvement in the violence.

Mr. MILIBAND: The idea that the protesters on the streets of Iran are motivated or mobilized or organized by foreign powers is completely without foundation.

POGGIOLI: U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, representing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who could not travel due to an injured elbow, asserted that a significant percentage of Iranians have significant concerns about the fairness and legitimacy of the elections.

Undersecretary WILLIAM BURNS (State Department): The United States is deeply troubled by the use of violence against innocent people who are simply trying to express themselves peacefully and courageously. And such actions against peaceful demonstrators are profoundly unjust.

POGGIOLI: The wording of the statement reflects a compromise reached between countries that had wanted to send a tough message to Tehran and Russia, which does not want to slam the door on possible talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking through a translator said, we will not interfere in Iran's internal affairs.

Mr. SERGEY LAVROV (Foreign Minister, Russia): (Through Translator) And we base ourselves on the understanding that all of the issues, which have arisen in the context of the elections in Iran, will be resolved legally and through democratic procedures existing in Iran.

POGGIOLI: The Group of Eight foreign ministers called on the Iranian government to guarantee that the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral process. The statement also said, we remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and said the G8 is deeply concerned over proliferation risks posed by the program. It urged Iran to cooperate fully with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.

Later, the representatives of the Mid-East Quartet, the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, met for their first formal session since President Barack Obama took office.

At a press conference, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon gave an outline of the statement.

Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): We are urging Israeli authorities to stop settlement, including the natural growth.

POGGIOLI: The negotiators also called for a sustained reopening of Gaza's crossing points to insure a regular flow of people, as well as humanitarian aid and goods to the isolated area. And they urged the Palestinians to commit themselves to nonviolence and recognition of Israel.

Ban Ki-Moon said that with the Obama administration now in power, there is a historic opportunity for a Mid-East peace.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Trieste.

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