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Germany

Germany Calls for Direct US-Iran Talks on Nuclear Program

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the US on Tuesday to address Iran's disputed nuclear program in landmark bilateral talks with Tehran, but Washington appeared unenthusiastic about the initiative.

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Steinmeier thinks direct US-Iranian talks on the nuclear issue are a good idea

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said ahead of a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday that direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran held the potential to break a deadlock over the protracted nuclear crisis.

The chief German diplomat, however, told reporters after his meeting with Rice that "there were no signals in that direction," suggesting Washington would not comply with Berlin's urgings.

Steinmeier met with Rice for about two hours of talks, during which the two top diplomats debated the Iran issue. Rice also briefed Steinmeier on her weekend trip to Iraq with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

US reluctant

Steinmeier earlier Tuesday had pressed the Iran issue with White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley after he arrived in Washington Monday for a two-day visit.

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Iran's nuclear program has been a concern for both Germany and the US

"Based on reports that there are apparently talks taking place arranged by the American ambassador in Baghdad with the Iranian leadership about the situation in Iraq, I advised that the topics should not be limited just to Iraq but expanded to include one of the most urgent problems confronting us all: the suspicion that Iran, the Iranian leadership, is pursuing secret atomic weapons programs," he told reporters.

Steinmeier said a debate had begun in the United States about direct US-Iranian negotiations on the nuclear issue, which he and his British counterpart Jack Straw backed, but noted the US government appeared reluctant.

"We are oversimplifying the situation if we say that there is European pressure on the United States, on the American administration -- this is above all an internal American discussion," he said.

"But at the moment, I cannot see any signs that they are prepared to take part in such discussions."

No direct meeting

Until now, the United States has limited its diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear program to two forums: the UN Security Council and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran's charge d'affaires in Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Gomi, said Tuesday that talks between Iran and the United States on the situation in Iraq would take place in Baghdad with Iraqi

participation. No date was set.

Any direct meeting would mark a break in a near three-decade pause in direct contacts between US and Iranian officials following the country's 1979 Islamic revolution and the subsequent US hostage drama.

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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with her counterparts in Berlin last week

Rice was in Berlin last Thursday for a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany on the Iranian nuclear program.

Ministers of the six countries discussed the road ahead one day after the council adopted a non-binding statement urging Iran to halt within 30 days all uranium enrichment activities, which Western leaders fear are part of an effort to build an atomic bomb.

Steinmeier said that recent Iranian tests of a new land-to-sea missile in the Gulf were damaging to the negotiations, particularly in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's open calls for "Israel to be wiped off the map".

Afghanistan, India also on agenda

Apart from Iran, Steinmeier brought up with Washington the case of a German-Turkish citizen, Murat Kurnaz, held at the US prison camp in Guantanamo since 2002, and developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where Berlin has a major peacekeeping contingent.

Steinmeier said there were "no further decisions" on Kurnaz after his talks with Rice, but said he would stay in close contact with Washington over the case.

They also addressed last month's landmark US-Indian nuclear deal in which the United States agreed to provide nuclear technology in exchange for India separating its civil and military atomic programs and agreeing to inspections.

Steinmeier earlier renewed his criticism that the timing of the accord was "not helpful" in light of the Iranian nuclear dispute, but said Germany could come to support it if it were the "start of a process" that eventually integrated India into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has refused to sign.

The German diplomat left Washington late Tuesday on a flight back to Berlin.

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