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Berlusconi: G-8 divided on Iran

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ALESSANDRA RIZZO | July 7, 2009 02:53 PM EST | AP

L'AQUILA, Italy — The leaders of Group of Eight countries have yet to forge a common position on Iran's violent crackdown on post-electoral protests, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday on the eve of the summit.

Berlusconi, who chairs the gathering of world leaders opening Wednesday, noted that some countries, such as France, were calling for tougher action against Tehran, while others, such as Russia, favored a softer stance to keep dialogue open.

"It still has to be decided what the statement on Iran will be," Berlusconi said at a news conference in Rome to present the summit. He said the leaders would likely opt for dialogue.

The leaders will discuss global security threats, with Iran topping the agenda, during a working dinner Wednesday night. After the dinner, they are expected to put out a joint statement.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian authorities' response to days of opposition protests that left several dead and many people in jail. He said recently that France has always wanted to "strengthen the sanctions" against the Iranian regime, "so that Iranian leaders will really understand that the path that they have chosen will be a dead end."

Russia has rejected the possibility of sanctions. President Dmitry Medvedev smilingly welcomed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a security summit in Russia four days after Iran's disputed election.

The U.S. goal of dialogue with Tehran has been rattled by Iran's heavy crackdown on protesters after the June 12 election, though Washington says it still hopes the policy will bear fruit. Ahmadinejad has claimed a landslide victory, but supporters of his pro-reform opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi say the official results are fraudulent.

When G-8 foreign ministers met in Trieste last month, a compromise statement deplored the violence on peaceful demonstrators, but left the door open to dialogue on Iran's contentious nuclear dossier.

"I think we're going to go ahead with dialogue," Berlusconi said Tuesday. "Italy is on this position, so is the Russian Federation and President (Barack) Obama has made this opening to dialogue."

Berlusconi said that international experience suggests that sanctions do not lead to great results with smaller countries, let alone a big one like Iran. He stressed, however, that the offer to Tehran was not indefinite, and that there would be a "time limit."

Berlusconi also stressed the "risk that the world faces" if Israel ascertains that Tehran has a nuclear weapon. "The consequences could be really bleak, not just for the Gulf but the whole world," said the Italian prime minister.

Iran is enriching uranium that it says it wants only as nuclear fuel. The United States and other nations fear it could be used in nuclear weapons.

The three-day summit opens Wednesday in the central Italian city of L'Aquila. Other security threats on the leaders' agenda are North Korea, nonproliferation and piracy.