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Friday, June 16, 2006

Iran in talks to join alliance against West

The Times: MAHMOUD Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, held talks with Chinese and Russian leaders at a summit meeting yesterday to build up a security grouping in opposition to the US and Nato.

Mr Ahmadinejad was invited to address a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), a China-sponsored proto-alliance that aims to strengthen defence links across Central Asia.

In an implicit reference to the US and its pressure on Iran to end its nuclear weapons programme, he said that the SCO could “ward off the threats of domineering powers to use their force against and interfere in the affairs of other states”.

The summit was also attended by the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, India and four Central Asian former Soviet republics. A joint declaration signed by those attending appeared to back the Iranian President.

“Differences in cultural traditions, political and social systems, values and models of development formed in the course of history should not be taken as pretexts to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” the joint declaration said.

The SCO was founded by China, Russia and the Central Asian republics ten years ago to fight terrorism, religious extremism and separatism in the region. In recent years, however, its militaries have expanded links to include joint exercises. Iran is said to be seeking full SCO membership, as is Pakistan. The participation of Iran has caused consternation in Washington. “It strikes me as strange that one would want to bring into an organisation that says it is against terrorism. . .one of the leading terrorist nations in the world — Iran,” said Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary.

China and its official media have played down suggestions that the SCO could become a rival to the US and Nato. “For China, this is one of the most important diplomatic activities of the year,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, adding that it would produce a series of agreements on security and economic co-operation.

The Russian press has been much more outspoken. “The main ideological message of this summit is growing anti-Americanism,” the Kommersant daily said.
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