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G8 Attacks Iran Over Postelection Violence

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TRIESTE, Italy — Group of Eight foreign ministers criticized Iran's postelection violence, and urged its ruling clergy on Friday to ensure the outcome of the disputed ballot reflects the will of the Iranian people.

A statement by the ministers from the industrialized countries also said the door must remain open to dialogue on Iran's nuclear program but expressed "deep concern" over the proliferation risk.

The statement from the meeting in the northeastern Italian city of Trieste was the result of negotiations between countries such as Italy and France, which wanted to send a tough message to Iran to halt the postelection crackdown, and Russia, which has said it backs the results that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

The statement, issued on the second day of the three-day meeting, said the G-8 ministers deplored the violence that followed Iran's June 12 presidential vote. At least 17 people have been killed during protests, in addition to eight members of the Basij militiamen, and hundreds of people have been detained in a clampdown on the opposition.

"We express our solidarity with those who have suffered repression while peacefully demonstrating and urge Iran to respect human rights, including freedom of expression," the G8 ministers said, and they urged Iran "to guarantee that the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral process."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said this appeal was a key part of the G-8 message but stopped short of demanding a recount in the election because outsiders would have no way of confirming it was legitimate.

"If today I were to say with great clarity who the victor of the elections is, I couldn't, because I don't have the elements in my hands that the Iranian government has," Frattini said at a news conference, with other G-8 officials by his side. "On this, the G-8 agrees."

Frattini pointed to "worrying elements" such as the fact that in some voting districts the number of ballots cast and counted was higher than the number of registered voters. "We aren't in a position to control what happened," he said. "The message is that the game as of today isn't considered over."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "Whether the election results as announced are correct is highly doubtful." He called Iran's crackdown "intolerable" and "brutal."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow wanted to express its "most serious concern" over the use of force by Iran and the death of peaceful protesters.

"At the same time, we will not interfere in Iran's internal affairs. Our position is that all issues that have emerged in the context of the elections will be sorted out in line with democratic procedures," he said.

Officials sought to balance the need to criticize Iran's handling of the election with the effort to prevent it from slipping into further isolation, particularly regarding its nuclear program. Iran is enriching uranium that it says it wants only as nuclear fuel. The U.S. and other nations fear it could be used in nuclear weapons.

The statement recognized Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program but urged it "to restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear activities" and to seize the opportunity to "give diplomacy a chance to find a negotiated solution."

The G-8 talks at the 19th-century Palazzo in Trieste also are to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and peace in the Mideast.

Italy originally invited Iran to attend the three-day gathering as a special guest, arguing that it could play an important role in talks on Afghan stabilization. But Rome retracted the invitation after Iran failed to respond.

The G-8 statement said the Iran crisis "should be settled soon through democratic dialogue and peaceful means."

President Barack Obama has condemned the violence against protesters and lent his strongest support yet to their accusations the hardline victory was a fraud. But the United States has been careful not to become a scapegoat for Iran's cleric-led government.

"It is clear that there is a significant percentage of Iranians who have significant concerns about the fairness and legitimacy of the elections," said William Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs.

"The United States is deeply troubled by the use of violence against innocent people," said Burns, who replaced the injured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as head of the U.S. delegation.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose government expelled two Iranian diplomats earlier this week after Iran did the same to two British envoys, said Iran's claim that the protests were mobilized by Western powers is "completely without foundation."

"I think now there are big questions being asked within Iran," said Miliband. "We deplore violence, but we remain committed to engagement as a means to an end."

Friday's talks on regional security in Afghanistan and Pakistan were being attended by their foreign ministers and by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Also meeting Friday on the sidelines of the summit is the Mideast Quartet _ the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations _ to try to help move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward. The participants included the U.S. Mideast envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A range of Arab League nations will join in a follow-on session Friday afternoon. The Quartet decided not to invite Israel, Italy's Foreign Ministry said.

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AP writer Nicole Winfield in Trieste, Italy, contributed to this report.

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