Iran General NewsIran at 'front and center' of Obama trip

Iran at ‘front and center’ of Obama trip

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ImageAFP: Responding to Iran's political crackdown and nuclear program will be "at front and center" of President Barack Obama's visit to Russia and the G8 summit in Italy next week, a US official said.

ImageWASHINGTON (AFP) — Responding to Iran's political crackdown and nuclear program will be "at front and center" of President Barack Obama's visit to Russia and the G8 summit in Italy next week, a US official said.

Denis McDonough, one of Obama's top foreign policy aides, said that the president's visits would build upon a Group of Eight foreign ministers' statement deploring post election violence in Iran issued last week.

"The issue of Iran will be front and center at each of these stops," McDonough told reporters, looking ahead to Obama's visit to Moscow and the Group of Eight summit and final stopover in Ghana next week.

McDonough said that Obama was "quite gratified" at the role played by Russia in forging the G8 foreign ministers' statement. Moscow had previously commented that the demonstrations were an internal Iranian affair.

On Friday, G8 foreign ministers expressed full respect for Iran's sovereignty but deplored post-election violence there and urged Iran to respect fundamental human rights.

"It was a very strong statement outlining our concerns as it relates to Iran, the most recent actions and, of course, the ticking clock, as it relates to Iran's illicit nuclear program," McDonough said.

Obama and wife Michelle will leave Washington late on Sunday and fly direct to Moscow aboard Air Force One, and arrive on the morning of July 6.

Later that day, he will have private talks and a working meeting with

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and then a join press conference, McDonough, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, said. On Monday evening, the Obamas and the Medvedevs will dine together.

On Tuesday, Obama will have breakfast with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, for conversations that could touch on energy issues, his aides said.

Michael McFaul, national security council senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs said that Obama wanted to overcome a perception among some key players in Moscow that what was good for Washington, was bad for Russia.

"They think of that — that our number-one objective in the world is to make Russia weaker, to surround Russia, to do things that — that make us stronger and Russia weaker."

"I think what you're going to hear when President Obama is in Moscow that that is not the way that he sees the relationship."

Also on Tuesday, Obama will meet former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and deliver a major speech on US-Russian relations.

Obama will leave Moscow on Wednesday, July, 8, and head to Rome, and an onward trip to L'Aquila, Italy, for the Group of Eight summit

The Italian government is hosting the summit in the central Italian city in a show of support after it was devastated by an earthquake in April.

On the sidelines of the talks, the US leader will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, with whom he first held talks at the G20 economic summit in London in April.

On Friday July 10, officials said, Obama will hold a press conference and move back to Rome for a previously announced audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The final leg of Obama's journey will take him to Ghana, where he will make a major address on development and democracy in parliament.

Michelle Gavin, senior director for African Affairs on the NSC, said Ghana had been intentionally third trip to Europe since becoming president.

It "underscores the point that Africa is integrated broadly into foreign policy thinking," Gavin said.

"African forces are an important part of global discussions on key global issues, including many of those just discussed in the context of the G8.

"It makes sense to incorporate Africa in our foreign policy business this way."

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