Iran dominates G8 foreign ministers meeting

G8 foreign ministers say they are taking a firm stance with Iran, but cannot impose sanctions to force the country to discontinue its nuclear ambitions.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, left, walks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband at the G8 foreign ministers' meeting in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

G8 foreign ministers say they are taking a firm stance with Iran, but cannot impose sanctions to force the country to discontinue its nuclear ambitions.

The ministers, who gathered in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday to discuss global security concerns, said the UN Security Council is the proper body to consider additional sanctions against Iran, not the G8. The ministers said their intention was never to draft a sanction statement.

Western nations have been pushing for the UN to pursue a fourth round of sanctions, accusing Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the G8 ministers' talks on Iran were solely informational.

"We exchanged views, discussed the importance of the international community addressing the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. And I, for one, was very satisfied by the results of that conversation," she told reporters at the conclusion of the meeting on Tuesday.

"But I think it's important to underscore that the negotiating forum that we are all focused on is the United Nations Security Council. Some of us are members, others of us are not, but all of us share a concern on behalf of the international community.

"We have a lot of work to do in the UN. We're making slow but steady progress … So I came away heartened by the understanding and support of the G8 countries."

She said while she believes progress is being made, she has little hope Iran will change its course. She said her government has tried to reach out to Iran to discuss its nuclear program but has had little success.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an opening statement at the G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the Chateau Cartier on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, there hasn't been the response forthcoming that would create the atmosphere in which we could actually discuss these matter with Iranian counterparts."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who hosted Tuesday's meeting, said the G8 takes Iran seriously and considers the country's nuclear program "of very great concern to us all."

"Iran's actions raise serious doubts about the peaceful intention of their nuclear program and we agree to remain open to dialogue, but also agree that it's time to take appropriate steps to persuade Iran to end nuclear activities and return to the table," he said.

The ministers also expressed hope that non-G8 members, like China, would support their goals for Iran.

North Korea, Haiti discussed

The ministers discussed an array of security concerns beyond Iran, touching on North Korea, Africa, Burma, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Haiti, the Middle East and Latin America.

The meeting, which comes in advance of the June G8 leaders' meeting in Huntsville, Ont., and the G20 meeting in Toronto, came just one day after suicide bombers attacked two Moscow subway stations during the rush-hour commute Monday morning. The attack left 39 people dead.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened the meeting of foreign ministers, stressing the importance of Iran to global security.

"Tehran must halt its nuclear enrichment activities and engage in peaceful dialogue," Harper said in his opening remarks.

"There is much at stake. If nuclear proliferation leads to the use of nuclear weapons, whether by states or non-state actors, then no matter where the bombs are set off, the catastrophe will be felt around the world."

Afghanistan of concern

The foreign ministers on Tuesday also discussed Afghanistan at length, expressing both caution and optimism about the country's progress. The ministers discussed an Afghanistan-Pakistan border region prosperity initiative aimed at building trade and infrastructure through specific projects along the border. The Afghan and Pakistan governments will be partners, as will the World Bank and Canadian Development Bank, the ministers said.

"We have to find opportunities where both these countries can indeed progress," Cannon said.

The Afghanistan discussion came a day after Clinton told the CBC that the U.S. would like Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2011, the year Canada is scheduled to end its combat mission in the country.

There has been no formal request for Canadians to maintain their combat role beyond the date set by Parliament, largely because the government has made it clear the answer to any such request would be no.

Cannon stressed Canada's position is firm. The mission will end in 2011.