Monday, June 12, 2006

Iran the fly in ointment at Asia security summit

Chris Buckley, Reuters:
China said on Monday that this week's summit of a Cental Asian security group will highlight the organisation's rising stature, but Iran, with its messy nuclear problems, threatens to highlight its limits.

Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's (SCO) six members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- meet in Shanghai on Thursday to plan the future of the five-year-old group, which has been one of China's first concerted forays into regional diplomacy.

"For China, this is one of the most important diplomatic activities of the year," Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui told a news conference in Beijing, adding that it would produce a series of agreements on security and economic cooperation.

"The SCO's influence is expanding and its international status is rising." READ MORE

But when the SCO meets, the world's eyes will also fall on one of group's four observer members -- Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be attending.

Li could not say whether the Shanghai meeting would address Iran's nuclear plans. It would "discuss and exchange views on regional and international and bilateral issues", Li said, but declined to specify whether Iran was one of the issues.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, says it has a right to a civilian nuclear programme, and denies U.S. accusations it is trying to build an atomic bomb.

Iran is considering a plan drawn up by Britain, France and Germany and approved by the United States, China and Russia. If Iran rejects the package, including incentives and penalties, the Western powers may push for U.N.-backed sanctions, a step China and Russia have resisted.

Any progress in Shanghai over Iran is likely to happen on the sidelines in informal talks, not in the main meetings, said Guo Xiangang, an expert on China and Iran at the China Institute of International Studies, a government thinktank in Beijing.

"China and Russia are leading powers in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and they'll probably be working on Iran to persuade it the plan is in its interests," said Guo, a former diplomat who served in Tehran for four years.

"The Shanghai meeting isn't in a position to make it a central topic. It's not going to make such a big, complex issue that doesn't involve a full member a focus," he said.