Thursday, June 15, 2006

Iran Appeals to International Leaders for Support

By Edward Cody

Thursday, June 15, 2006; 1:04 PM
nuclera iran -- Overshadowing a regional summit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested Thursday that China, Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations should help Iran resist growing pressure from the United States and Europe to limit its nuclear development program.

The appeal, in a speech to leaders of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, seemed aimed in particular at China and Russia. The two nations, permanent Security Council members, have been reluctant to endorse the threat of U.N. sanctions and other steps being pushed by the Bush administration to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium and submit its nuclear program to international controls.

Ahmadinejad's remarks also were framed to portray the SCO as a bloc opposed to the threats that have accompanied the U.S. and European campaign against Tehran's nuclear designs. In addition to China and Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan make up the group, which was founded five years ago under Chinese leadership to foster regional security and economic cooperation.

"We want this organization to develop into a powerful body, influential in regional and international politics, economics and trade, and also serve to block threats and unlawful strong-arm interference from various countries," Ahmadinejad declared.

The five permanent United Nations Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- along with Germany recently proposed a new package of incentives designed to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment and begin negotiations on its nuclear ambitions. Although Russia and China signed on to the package, they have signaled reluctance to approve sanctions or other punitive action that Washington has warned could follow unless Iran buys into the proposals.

Iran has insisted that its program is aimed exclusively at producing energy and that it is within its rights to develop nuclear technology like other nations. But U.S. and European officials have suggested the ultimate goal is nuclear weapons, which they say would be a destabilizing factor in the hands of Iran's militantly Islamic leadership.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianzhao, urged Iran to accept the incentives package. In keeping with the Chinese position, he said diplomacy, not force or threats of sanctions, was the way to deal with the standoff. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing met with his Iranian counterpart to foster a favorable reply from Tehran, Liu said, but "they still need a little time."

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hu Jintao of China did not respond publicly to Ahmadinejad's appeal, but Putin told reporters after a private meeting with him that Iran is favorably disposed to the U.S.-European offer.

Uncomfortable with the focus on the nuclear standoff, Liu suggested reporters here were paying too much attention to Iran and not enough to festivities surrounding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's fifth anniversary celebrations. Iran was invited as an SCO observer nation, along with leaders from Pakistan, Mongolia and India. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan also was on hand, at the invitation of China, because joint action against drug smuggling was high on the agenda.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested recently that Ahmadinejad should not have been allowed to attend because one of the main SCO goals is to fight terrorism and, according to the Bush administration, Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. Rumsfeld's comments also highlighted a more general U.S. uneasiness over the SCO, a group with growing influence revolving around Chinese and Russian leadership and excluding the United States.

In a communique, the SCO heads of state said that in the future they intended to work out a mechanism "to adopt measures in response to developments that threaten regional peace, stability and security." While vague, the agreement suggested more formal military cooperation between Russia, China and their Central Asian partners. In addition, Hu proposed that the six SCO members begin negotiations on a friendship and security treaty.

Recognizing U.S. concerns, Hu and other leaders emphasized in speeches that the SCO is not aimed against any other countries.

But the background music of independence from U.S. influence seemed clearly audible as the six nations celebrated their cooperation. President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, for instance, complained that "foreign forces stationed in the region" had failed to dampen drug smuggling from Afghanistan and had sought to "rope in" Central Asian nations to advance their own interests.

Uzbekistan, along with Kyrgyzstan, accepted U.S. military forces on its soil to support the U.S. attack on Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But more recently Uzbekistan expelled the U.S. military from its base in the country, and Karimov's relations with Washington have soured. SCO leaders at a summit last year called on the United States to set a deadline for withdrawal of military installations from all member states.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said his country is keen to upgrade its status in the SCO from observer to full member. Musharraf portrayed Pakistan as an "energy corridor" for movement of Persian Gulf oil toward the giant Chinese economy, reflecting the SCO's strong appeal to nations surrounding China that are eager to share in its growing prosperity.

China has helped finance a port at Gwardar, in southwestern Pakistan near the gulf, and plans are under way for a road link from there to western China. Similarly, China has given low-interest loans for several projects in the SCO's Central Asian member-nations.

Ahmadinejad suggested Iran, with its large oil reserves, also was eager to play a part. He called for a regional energy conference to be held in Tehran, an idea that Liu said appeals to energy-hungry China.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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