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Putin urges uniform regional-conflict approaches

President Vladimir Putin called Friday for uniform approaches to be devised to resolve regional conflicts, while reiterating Russia's opposition to military action against Iran and its position as a reliable energy supplier.

At a meeting with the heads of news agencies from member countries of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, Putin denied Russia was seeking to annex any territories and urged the international community to formulate rules for dealing with disputed regions.

Against the backdrop of Georgian accusations that Russia was building up a military presence under the cover of a peacekeeping contingent rotation in the South Caucasus country's self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia, Putin issued a robust denial that Russia harbored any imperial ambitions.

"Russia has never raised the issue of annexing any territories outside its current borders," he said. "We have no plans of the kind."

The president called for a common understanding of what should be done when countries sought self-determination, particularly in light of the recent Montenegro vote for independence and an imminent decision on the UN-administered province of Kosovo in Serbia.

"I believe that we all should, and can, cooperate to draft common rules and uniform approaches to events happening in various regions of the world," Putin said. "Otherwise, there will be chaos."

Touching upon the problem of Kosovo, which is widely assumed to be on the way to independence, Putin said that if the Albanian-dominated province were given sovereignty, it would be difficult to explain to people in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia why they could not secede from Georgia.

"When we hear that one approach is possible in one place [but] is unacceptable in another, it is difficult to understand and is even more difficult to explain to people," he said.

However, the Russian leader stuck to Moscow's long-held position that Japan is not entitled to four islands in the Kuril chain that the Soviet Union claimed after the end of World War II. The dispute has prevented Russia and its eastern neighbor from signing a peace treaty officially ending the war.

"I should say that Russia has never thought that it should give the islands [to Japan]," he said, though he added that the Soviet Union had signed an agreement with Japan in 1956 on possibly giving it two of the islands.

But Putin said under what terms this might happen and suggested sovereignty issues still needed to be resolved.

"These are the questions that were left open in the declaration," he said.

The Russian leader was more positive over Iran and welcomed an American decision to join direct talks with Tehran over its controversial nuclear programs, calling it "an important step."

But he said it was premature to speak about imposing UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic and suggested detailed talks with the Iranian leadership could lead to a resolution of the situation while reiterating Moscow's opposition to a military operation.

"Our position is well known: we are against the use of force under any circumstances."

The five UN Security Council members and Germany agreed at a Vienna meeting on Thursday that force was not an option, though the Europeans and United States are still thought to be in favor of sanctions if Tehran fails to comply with the international community's demands to suspend its uranium program and open it up to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog.

However, the president was more bullish over claims that Russia is an unreliable energy partner and said it was not seeking to bully smaller neighbors.

He proposed that foreign partners seek solutions that would increase trust and boost energy cooperation in the light of controversy that has surrounded Russia since energy giant Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in January, in particular when U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Russia in May of using its energy resources to blackmail neighboring nations.

Putin defended Russia's position. "We are not imposing anything," he said. "We have resources and offer them and you need them."

He also restated Moscow's position that Russia and its companies honored their commitments to the world.

"We will fulfill our obligations and develop cooperation," he said.

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