G-8 ministers focus on Iran, Syria, North Korea

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By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The crisis in Syria along with growing concerns about Iran's nuclear program and a potential North Korean missile test dominated discussions Wednesday between foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrialized democracies.

"The events of this past year, even of just this past week affirm the continued need for comprehensive international cooperation and the G-8 is an essential forum for that," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said as she opened the talks to prepare for next month's summit of G-8 leaders at Camp David in Maryland.

Clinton's meeting with the foreign ministers will end Thursday with the release of a joint statement.

Clinton said the G-8, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, is "alarmed" at violence in Syria that has continued despite efforts by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to arrange a cease-fire. She said the ministers were concerned about the difficulties Annan is facing and would look for ways that they could cooperate to help him and "try to bring about a peaceful resolution of the current situation and a political transition for the sake of the Syrian people."

Separately, President Barack Obama discussed the Syrian crisis by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, with both voicing concern that President Bashar Assad's government was not complying with the cease-fire terms, the White House said.

In a statement, the White House said Obama and Merkel agreed that the continued crackdown on dissent by the Syrian government "underscored the need for the U.N. Security Council to come together to take more resolute action."

The G-8 officials were to hear from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu via videoconference. Turkey has been at the forefront of exploring ways to end the violence in Syria.

On Iran, Clinton said it was "urgent" for the Islamic republic to use upcoming talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany to show it is serious about addressing concerns over its nuclear program. Those talks are to be held on Saturday in Istanbul.

Moreover, the White House said that in Obama's phone call with Merkel, the two leaders said they would press for more sanctions and other measures against Iran's regime if it did not take advantage of Saturday's talks.

The U.S. and its allies, including Israel, accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it has no interest in an atomic bomb and insists its program is aimed at producing energy.

"These talks are an opportunity for Iran to address seriously the international community's concerns about its nuclear program," Clinton said. "We believe there is still time for diplomacy, but it is urgent that the Iranians come to the table to establish an environment conducive to achieving concrete results through a sustained process."

Clinton also noted that North Korea is preparing to launch a satellite over the East China Sea in what almost all countries except for the North say would be a blatant violation of Security Council resolutions barring ballistic missile tests. The North says its satellite launch is not proscribed.

"I think we all share a strong interest in stability on the Korean Peninsula, and we will be discussing how best to achieve that as well," Clinton told her colleagues.

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