Moscow meets new German Foreign Minister

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travels to Moscow on Saturday for talks with Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin on topics including Iran's disputed nuclear program. Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said Friday that Steinmeier would discuss the Iranian nuclear program and efforts led by Germany, France and Britain to negotiate guarantees that Teheran does not acquire nuclear arms.

The European nations are seeking to engage Iran on a plan that would move its nascent uranium enrichment program to Russia. "We want to move forward on this line in the coming weeks," Jaeger said, without elaborating. Russia, a key Iranian ally, has resisted efforts to bring Tehran before the U.N. Security Council over its alleged nuclear weapons program, insisting that the disputes be resolved through the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Steinmeier's talks will be the first top-level meeting between German and Russian leaders since the election of the new Berlin government and a test of whether German-Russian relations will cool under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel, who took office last week, has said Russia remains a "strategic partner" for Germany, which increasingly depends on Russia for its energy supplies.

But she has said she will pay more attention to smaller European partners and speak out on human rights _ a pledge seen as a willingness to express concern about the conflict in Chechnya. Though she grew up in the former East Germany and speaks fluent Russian, Merkel is not expected to maintain the cozy relations that her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, enjoyed with Putin. Before a visit to Poland on Friday, Merkel would not say whether she would revise an agreement for an undersea gas pipeline between Russia and Germany signed under Schroeder, bypassing Poland the Baltic states. But she told Polish magazine Fakt that Germany's "good relations with Russia will never be at the cost of Poland", reports the AP. N.U.

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