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. Russia welcomes 'fresh' US approach on Iran
MOSCOW, Feb 11 (AFP) Feb 11, 2009
Russia on Wednesday hailed US President Barack Obama's offer to hold talks with Iran, saying his "fresh approach" would help international efforts to end a six-year nuclear standoff with Tehran.

At talks with EU officials, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed the approach of ex-president George W. Bush and said Obama's offer to talk to Iran would help the six major powers trying to find a breakthough.

He also said Russia was ready to offer greater help for Western operations in Afghanistan although this was dependent on the repair of NATO-Russia ties and "respect" for Moscow's status.

"We expect that the United States, considering the fresh approach that seems noticeable in regard to Iran, will be able to make a more effective contribution in resolving these questions than in recent years," Lavrov said.

"We attach particular significance to the declared intention of the new Washington administration to start direct dialogue with Iran," he told a news conference with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Russia is among six powers dealing with the Iranian nuclear case, comprising the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany.

Russia has sometimes played mediator between Iran and the West, reflecting the two countries' historical ties and Russian help for Iran in defence and civilian nuclear energy.

Solana has been carrying out direct talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran was ready for dialogue with the United States as long as there was a climate of mutual respect.

Obama said on Monday he hoped to create the conditions for face-to-face dialogue with Iran after Bush had shunned such contacts.

"We're sure this will help the common efforts of the six" international powers dealing with the Iranian nuclear case, Lavrov said.

Western countries suspect Iran is creating a nuclear weapons programme under cover of its stated drive for civilian atomic energy -- a charge denied by Tehran.

Lavrov emphasized that Moscow's more upbeat approach to the Obama administration also extended to help on Afghanistan but said this was conditional on Western respect.

He noted that Moscow had already given Washington a "positive answer," enabling non-military supplies to transit through Russia to Afghanistan which the Obama administration has made made a high priority.

"Other agreements could also be possible. What's important is that relations between Russia and NATO return to a normal course," he said, referring to Western condemnation of last year's Russian military thrust into Georgia.

"Relations need to be repaired and we're ready for that but normalising them is possible only by returning to the source, to the principles" of the documents of the NATO-Russia Council, he said, referring to a consultative body set up in 2002.

"It's written very clearly that we participate in the Russia-NATO Council on a national basis and not on a 26-versus one basis or 26 plus one but as 27 members and that we respect the principles of the indivisibility of security -- that the security of one cannot be secured at the expense of another," he said.

The United States has been seeking new supply routes through the former Soviet Union as it steps up operations in Afghanistan in the face of a deteriorating situation in its other main conduit through Pakistan.

Both Russia and the United States have declared a willingness to improve their ties following Obama's inauguration.

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