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G8 Countries Demand Answer from Iran

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

And I'm Susan Stamberg.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow today. She's there to discuss the West's nuclear standoff with Iran at a meeting of foreign ministers from the G8. That's the group of eight leading industrial countries. They will also go over the agenda for next month's G8 Summit, also to be held in Moscow. NPR's Moscow Correspondent Gregory Feifer joins us now.

Good morning, Gregory.

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

Good morning, Susan.

STAMBERG: Yesterday the defense minister of Germany said that Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium under close monitoring from the United Nations. How is that position affecting today's talks?

FEIFER: A lot. European countries on the one hand, and Washington, and Iran on the other, have taken very strict positions. Washington and London have been against allowing Iran any uranium enrichments, but Iran was insisting it would press ahead no matter what. Now there appears to be a possible diplomatic way out. Washington has also changed its position saying that it is willing to engage with direct talks with Iran in a multilateral setting, which is also a big change. But the ball is very much in Iran's court to respond to a Western incentive package offered earlier this month to come to an agreement. But Iran says it won't reply until August, so experts say the issue won't be at the top of the list for today's talks.

STAMBERG: Yeah, the G8 Summit is going to open on the 15th of July, going to be held in Moscow for the first time.

FEIFER: That's right. It's very big for President Vladimir Putin here. Russia holds the G8 presidency this year, and Putin wants to push Russia forward as a global power. He's using the issue of energy security to do that. Russia wants the issue to top the agenda at the meeting next month, but it's a very controversial issue. Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine last January, and now Western countries are accusing Russia of using energy as a political tool.

STAMBERG: Well, it's an important issue for Russia, but how much agreement do they expect to have on those problems, the problem of energy security?

FEIFER: Well, it's not clear. Moscow wants to buy into Western utilities - the retail side of the business, which worries European countries. At the same time, Moscow is refusing to open its own industry to foreign investment. It's consolidating control of the oil and gas industry in Russia in the hands of the state, and Western countries are accusing Moscow of using this as a political tool. Vice President Dick Cheney recently called Russia's actions intimidation and blackmail.

STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Thank you very much. NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Stamberg
Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.
Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.