TRIESTE, Italy (Reuters) - Group of Eight powers on Friday deplored violence stemming from Iran’s disputed presidential election but held open the door for Tehran to take part in talks on its controversial nuclear programme.
The G8, and a separate meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers, threw their support behind a new peace drive in the region while calling for a total freeze on construction in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including on “natural growth” of existing settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed similar calls from U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
G8 foreign ministers had been due to discuss the fight against militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the gathering in the northern Italian port city of Trieste, but the crisis over the Iranian election dominated the meeting.
“We deplore post-electoral violence, which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians,” said the G8, which includes the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.
“We express our solidarity with those who have suffered repression while peacefully demonstrating and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights,” it said in a statement.
The G8 called for the crisis to be settled soon through “democratic dialogue and peaceful means.”
About 20 people were killed in protests over Iran’s June 12 election result, the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Official results handed hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory. Defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi said the vote was rigged.
Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, said on Friday it had found no major violations in the election, which it called the “healthiest” vote since the revolution.
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Trieste it was “doubtful” the official results were correct.
And U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, deputising for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said: “It’s clear that there is a significant percentage of Iranians who continue to have significant concerns about the fairness and legitimacy of the elections.”
The G8 foreign ministers were careful not to slam the door on possible talks with Iran over its nuclear programme, though they said Iran had only a limited time to accept an offer from the United States and five other powers to talk.
“We sincerely hope that Iran will seize this opportunity to give diplomacy a chance ...,” the G8 statement said.
Tehran says the programme is for peaceful purposes but Western nations suspect it of trying to build nuclear weapons.
The G8 also said a nuclear test conducted last month by North Korea was a “threat to regional peace and stability.”
On the Middle East peace process, which Obama is trying to breathe new life into, the G8 called on “all parties to re-enter direct negotiations on all standing issues” consistent with a 2003 peace “road map” for establishing a Palestinian state.
The G8 called on both Israel and the Palestinians to “fulfil their obligations under the road map, including a freeze in settlement activity as well as their ‘natural growth’ and an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.”
The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the United States, European Union and Russia, which met later in Trieste also urged the Israeli government to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth.
Netanyahu has said he plans to continue to build within existing settlements in the West Bank to accommodate the “natural growth” of families.
It was the first formal Quartet meeting since Obama took office and the first since Netanyahu, bowing to intense U.S. pressure, finally gave his endorsement this month, with conditions, to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Friday the United States hoped Israelis and Palestinians would soon begin “meaningful and productive” peace negotiations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted to achieve a “full-fledged resumption of direct negotiations” at a Middle East peace conference Moscow hopes to host this year.
Dozens of countries and multilateral organisations join the G8 on Saturday to discuss how to stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Additional reporting by Roberto Landucci, Phil Stewart and Hans-Edzard Busemann; writing by Adrian Croft; editing by Matthew Jones