Thursday, June 15, 2006

Iran's President Urges SCO to Resist US Influence

Geoff Dyer, The Financial Times:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad on Thursday called on China, Russia, and central Asian nations to resist intrusions in the region by the “domineering” US and to co-operate more on energy policy. Speaking at a summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which he was attending as an observer, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad invited the six members of the security group to a meeting in Tehran to discuss energy exploration and development in the region.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s presence in Shanghai has overshadowed the annual summit of the SCO whose members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while India, Pakistan and Mongolia also have observer status.

The Iranian leader hopes the summit will help boost ties with Russia and China, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and diminish the perception that he is becoming internationally isolated over his country’s nuclear programme. READ MORE

The SCO’s attitude towards Iran, which is asking for permanent membership of the group, is considered an indication of whether it is becoming a bulwark against US interests in the region.

Although Mr Ahmadi-Nejad did not mention the US by name, his aggressive rhetoric appeared to be an explicit reference to the Bush administration. Iranian membership could “turn the SCO into a strong, influential economic and political institution at regional and international levels and prevent the threats of domineering powers and their aggressive interference in global affairs,” he said.

The member countries had a lot to gain by co-operating on energy. “The SCO groups both energy-producing nations and energy-consuming ones,” Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said.

Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov echoed some of his sentiments when he attacked unnamed countries that wanted to reshape central Asia for their own interests and criticised the “low effectiveness” of the international coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Russia and China have backed a new European Union proposal to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, but it is unclear if they will support sanctions should Iran refuse the plan.

Speaking before a private meeting on Thursday with Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, Russian president Vladimir Putin said he wanted to go over the European proposal, but added that “Russia has always been a reliable partner” of Iran.

Hu Jintao, president of China, defended the presence of Iran at the meeting but said the SCO was designed to boost regional stability rather than oppose the US. “Our organisation has been an important force that promotes peace, security and development in this region,” he said.

The Chinese are less keen than some of the other SCO members to see open criticism of the US and Chinese officials have urged the media to pay less attention to Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. However his presence at the summit in Shanghai has given a much higher profile to an organisation that is one of China’s first attempts to exert regional leadership.

Last week Donald Rumsfeld, US defense secretary, said it was “strange” that Iran was invited to a meeting of an organisation that opposes terrorism, given that it is one of “the leading terrorist nations in the world”.

The leaders of the six member nations held a “meet the press” session in the afternoon during which each gave a five-minute speech but took no questions from the media.