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Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries met in Moscow today. They urged Iran to respond to the latest attempt to end the showdown over its nuclear program. The foreign ministers also discussed the Middle East and energy security. The meeting was part of preparations for next month's G8 Summit in St. Petersburg.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

Russia holds the G8 presidency this year and wants the summit to show its new wealth and influence in the world. The Russians had hopes the summit would deal with issues like energy. Instead, the ministers today focused on the Middle East and Iran.

Earlier this month, a group of six major powers, including Washington and Moscow, offered Tehran a package of economic incentives in return for stopping its uranium enrichment program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today said the ministers want a prompt reply.

Mr. SERGEI LAVROV (Foreign Minister, Russia): We did not discuss anything beyond the offer, which we all made in good faith to Iran, which is a positive offer. And we expect a positive, official, specific response to this.

FEIFER: Lavrov said the ministers agreed to wait for a reply until next Wednesday's meeting between European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and top Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani. He said the six countries offering the incentives would reassess the situation based on the talk's outcome.

Analysts say there's new hope for a diplomatic solution to the standoff after western countries began to soften their positions. Yesterday, the German defense minister said Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium if its program is closely monitored by the United Nations. Victor Kremenyuk of the USA and Canada Institute.

Mr. VICTOR KREMENYUK (Institute for USA and Canada Studies): (Through translator) It changes the situation. It's the way to avoid a diplomatic dead end. And Washington has also taken a very flexible position on the matter.

FEIFER: Rose Gottemoeller of the Moscow Carnegie Center agrees.

Ms. ROSE GOTTEMOELLER (Moscow Carnegie Center): Because the United States has made a fundamental shift now in its own position and said that they willing to speak directly to the Iranians in a multilateral form. But this is such a fundamental shift that I see all kinds of possibilities if the Iranians are forward-leaning.

FEIFER: Analysts agree the ball is now in Iran's court. Gottemoeller says much depends on Tehran's willingness to negotiate in good faith and curb inflammatory statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: If they continue to stiff-arm the international community, if Ahmadinejad continues to throw these fire bombs in terms of his public statements, it can go the wrong way as well.

FEIFER: Today's meeting also exposed tension between the United States and Russia over Iraq. Moscow wants a Security Council resolution denouncing the execution of four of its diplomats by insurgents earlier this month. Technicians overheard what was described as a heated discussion between Rice and Lavrov over the wording of the resolution. Part of the discussion was broadcast by CNN.

(Soundbite of G8 Meeting)

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): Sergei, the problem is there's a need for improved security in Iraq, period. The problem isn't diplomatic missions. The problem is that you have a terrorist and insurgent population that is wreaking havoc on a hapless Iraqi population that's trying to fight back and on a coalition force that's trying to fight back. And the implication that somehow by declaring that diplomats need to be protected, it will get better, I think is simply not right.

FEIFER: Rice also said Washington wouldn't hesitate to voice concerns over serious worries Moscow raised in Western Europe after Russia cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine during a price dispute last January. Human rights groups are holding conferences in Moscow to coincide with the G8 Summit and draw attention to what they say is Russia's turn away from democracy. Rice said Washington would raise its own concerns, but that there was no talk of boycotting next month's event.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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