Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Iran seeks relief from US threats at Cuba summit

Khaleej Times:
Faced with a barrage of Western threats over Iran’s nuclear programme, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will seek strong backing from Non-Aligned Movement allies at this week’s summit in Cuba. READ MORE

Ahmadinejad left Wednesday for a trip to fellow NAM member Senegal from where he will head the next day to the meeting of non-aligned leaders in the Cuban capital Havana that starts on Friday.

He will then hold talks in Caracas with one of Teheran’s stoutest anti-American allies, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who has backed the Islamic republic on its nuclear programme and refusal to recognise Israel.

Ahmadinejad will round off the trip in a very different environment when he gives an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York with a host of world leaders of all political stripes in attendance.

In contrast to frosty tones from Europe and Washington, he is bound to receive a warm welcome in Havana from leaders who share his anti-US stance, such as his Cuban hosts, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Chavez.

The NAM, a 116 nation grouping of most of the world’s developing nations, was expected to stress the right of all states to develop nuclear technology and call for an ‘unconditional’ resumption of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, diplomats in Havana said.

Ahmadinejad’s delegation at the two-day summit will seek ‘to draw solidarity from the movement for its legitimate right to develop nuclear energy’, according to Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno.

Such ringing support would be music to the ears of the Islamic republic, which has been enduring stark US warnings that it risks sanctions after failing to obey a deadline to halt sensitive nuclear work.

The United States and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons -- a charge vehemently denied by Teheran -- and are concerned by uranium enrichment, a process that can used both for energy and military purposes.

Iran has always insisted suspicions over its nuclear programme are not shared by all the international community, apart from the United States and its closer allies in Europe.

But conscious of the need to stay close to Washington, not all NAM members have been offering Iran their unqualified support over its nuclear programme.

India caused consternation in Teheran by voting twice against Iran on two recent key nuclear resolutions at the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA) although it has resolutely opposed the use of force against Iran.

Another key player in the bloc, South Africa, has consistently defended Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but abstained in the two IAEA votes in September 2005 and February.

The only states to vote against the February resolution that reported the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council were Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, all countries with troubled ties with the United States.

Venezuela was alone in opposing the September resolution that found Iran in violation of international nuclear safeguards.

So nothing other than the warmest support can be expected from Venezuela’s Chavez, who has backed the right to uranium enrichment of its fellow OPEC member to the hilt, when Ahmadinejad visits next week.

On a visit to Teheran in late July, his fourth since 2000, Chevez told cheering Iranian students: ‘We should unite and save humanity and get rid of the American empire.’

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, whom Ahmadinejad was due to meet in Dakar on Wednesday, has also urged the West to change its approach to Iran’s nuclear program by starting talks without any conditions.

‘My own role as a Muslim yet unabashedly pro-Western intermediary between the European Union and Iran makes me think there is a better way: drop the preconditions to opening negotiations,’ he wrote in a letter to the Financial Times in late August, according to the IRNA agency.

Negotiations ‘would allay Western suspicions that Iran is trying to buy time. I urge the West to let negotiations begin. What have you got to lose?’ he asked.