Sarkozy to meet Iran's foreign minister Wednesday

PARIS Tue Jun 2, 2009 7:27am EDT

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks at a media conference in Tehran June 1, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks at a media conference in Tehran June 1, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday to discuss Tehran's nuclear program, in rare talks between a leader of a major power and a senior Iranian politician.

"The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss talks which the six (world powers) wish to relaunch with Iran on the question of nuclear proliferation," Sarkozy's office said in a statement.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said in April they would invite Iran to talks to try to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row, but Tehran has so far rejected their overtures.

The Elysee said Sarkozy would see Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at 4.30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. EDT).

Bilateral encounters at such a senior level between Iran and one of the countries involved in the nuclear issue are highly unusual. It will be the first time Sarkozy has met a top Iranian minister since he took office in 2007.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The West accuses Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons. Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, denies the charge and says it only wants nuclear power to generate electricity.

It has ruled out freezing its work on uranium enrichment, drawing a wave of U.N. sanctions.

OBAMA TALKS IN FRANCE

Sarkozy is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday in France and Iran is certain to be on the agenda.

Obama has rolled back George W. Bush's policy of isolating Iran, and U.S. officials have sought out Iranian representatives at recent international meetings.

Iran's Mottaki briefly chatted with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in April at a conference in Tokyo.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday he expected a positive outcome from six-party talks with Iran.

"Our proposals to Iran are well-known. We expect a constructive reaction from the Iranian administration," Lavrov told a news conference following a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Moscow.

"We really have a good chance now, also taking into account the position of the new American administration to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem," he added.

Obama has offered a new beginning of diplomatic engagement with Iran if it "unclenches its fist," but Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails.

The meeting between Sarkozy and Mottaki takes place nine days before Iran's presidential election, in which the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a challenge from moderates seeking a thaw in relations with the West.

Italy's foreign minister was scheduled to visit Tehran last month but the trip was canceled at the last minute after Iran launched a missile on the same day.

(Additional reporting by Conor Sweeney in Moscow and Fredrik Dahl in Tehran; writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Andrew Roche)

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