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Powell Heads to France for Meetings on Mideast, Iraq, Iran, Terrorism

Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) will discuss reconstruction in Iraq, peace in the Middle East, Iran's nuclear program and the war on terrorism with his counterparts from other major nations on a trip to France this week, the State Department said Wednesday.

Powell headed to Paris Wednesday on a trip likely to include separate talks with his host, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (search), who led a campaign earlier this year against the U.S. war in Iraq. Other ministers are attending from Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

The meeting is part of the run-up to the Group of Eight (search) annual summit, which President Bush and other leaders will attend June 1-3 in the French alpine spa town of Evian. Treasury Secretary John Snow visited France last weekend as part of the preparations.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he was sure Iran would come up when nonproliferation was discussed "because of the information coming out about nuclear development there."

The United States has accused Iran of secretly embarking on a program to enrich uranium at Natanz in southern Iran, which U.S. officials fear could be used to make nuclear weapons. Iran has rejected these claims.

Boucher said the United States was waiting for a report next month from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, "on what they've learned about Iran's programs." The United States expects the agency to declare that Iran has violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"We've known for a long time a lot of things about Iran programs that have raised some very serious concerns for us that we have raised with others," Boucher said.

He said there was a basis for other countries to reevaluate their cooperation with Iran "and we'll be pushing for that as well." The United States has raised the issue several times with Russia, which said last week it shares U.S. concerns over Iran's nuclear program and favors tighter controls to make sure Tehran doesn't develop nuclear weapons.

Boucher said the United States cooperated with its G-8 allies on pursuing peace in the Middle East. "We expect to cooperate with them in rebuilding Iraq. We're already working together in Afghanistan," he said.

He said the meeting could contribute moving beyond differences with France, Germany and Russia over the Iraq war.

"To the extent that we had differences with some of them, we'll see how much they want to cooperate and move forward with the G-8 in accomplishing some of the goals we think we still share," Boucher said.

Asked whether Powell would meet separately with the French foreign minister as a matter of protocol involving the host country or because he wanted to have a particular conversation with de Villepin, Boucher said. "There's all kinds of reasons to meet with the French foreign minister."

Bush administration officials have said they are reviewing relations with France with an eye toward punishing the nation for opposing the war with Iraq.