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Italy Gives Iran G8 Deadline

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ROME — Italy considers its G-8 meeting invitation to Iran rejected since Tehran has not yet responded, the foreign minister said Monday in a sign of Rome's growing impatience.

Italy had invited Iran to attend talks on Afghanistan and Pakistan to be held during the Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting starting Thursday in Trieste. Rome says Tehran could contribute to discussions on stabilizing the region.

Italy is Iran's leading trading partner in the European Union and has long maintained that no lasting solution in the Middle East conflict can be found without Tehran's involvement.

Rome kept its invitation to Trieste open even during the bloody crackdown on protests over Iran's disputed presidential election. As of late Sunday, a Foreign Ministry communique expressed the hope that Iran might make its contribution to the region at the Trieste meeting.

But on Monday, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Iran had to respond by the end of the day. Later, he told TV evening news program TG5 that "I must consider that Iran has rejected the invitation."

At that point, the Iranian Embassy in Rome was closed for the day, so it was not immediately possible to get Iranian comment about Italy's decision.

Frattini's spokesman, Maurizio Massari, said it would be difficult for Iran to focus on discussing stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan given its domestic turmoil _ saying that its potential contribution was the very reason why Iran had been invited in the first place.

Frattini told TG5 that the regime's silence on the invitation shows that "it has no interest in explaining to the world if it can be constructive at least in the Pakistani and Afghan region."

The three-day meeting in the northeastern city of Trieste brings together the Group of Eight most industrialized nations and several other countries for wide-ranging talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will not attend the summit because she is recovering from surgery to repair a broken elbow, the State Department said Monday. William Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, will head the U.S. delegation.

The Quartet of key parties trying to promote Mideast peace _ the U.N., the U.S., the European Union and Russia _ are also among the participants.

Reports of voting irregularities in the June 12 vote in Iran that re-elected hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have raised concerns in many European capitals, including London, Paris and Berlin.

"Italy will continue to strongly condemn the violence, the aggression against peaceful demonstrators," Frattini told RAI state TV. "We will ask that the votes be recounted."

Rome has also defended European allies from Iran's accusations of foreign meddling, directed especially at Britain, France and Germany.

"There is no plot, no Western country has ever thought about a plot," Frattini said in the interview with RAI. "We want transparency and truth, exactly what millions of Iranians in the streets want.

The Foreign Ministry statement Sunday urged Iran to take urgent but peaceful measures to end the violence and hold an open meeting with the country's opposition.

Italy has instructed its embassy in Iran to provide humanitarian aid to the protesters wounded during the clashes, pending an EU-wide proposal to coordinate assistance. But so far the Italian Embassy has received no such requests for assistance, Massari said.

Also on Monday, the ministry issued a travel warning for Iran, advising Italians to postpone trips to the country.

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