French prime minsiter to visit Moscow

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was to arrive in Moscow on Monday for talks that are expected to be dominated by the escalating international crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

De Villepin, who is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, said ahead of the two-day visit that Europe is still willing to negotiate with Iran if it suspends all sensitive nuclear activities, adding that it was up to Tehran to make the next move.

But Iran announced Monday that talks aimed at defusing the dispute due to take place in Moscow on Thursday had been postponed indefinitely.

It hinted that this was in response to the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision earlier this month to report Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council. Iran's hard-line leadership responded angrily to the referral backed by Russia, a long time ally.

In an interview published Monday in the Russian government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta, France's prime minister stressed the importance of Russia's proposal to enrich uranium for Iran to ease Western concerns that Tehran is trying to build atomic weapons.

"You see, what happens next depends on Iran's actions," he said. "The ball is in their court."

France, Britain and Germany, negotiating on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, led months of talks with Iran to insist that the Islamic regime permanently scrap its uranium enrichment, a technology that can produce nuclear fuel or bombs.

De Villepin's talks also are expected to focus on Moscow's efforts to reach out to Hamas after its victory in Palestinian elections, reports the AP.

I.L.