06/16/2006, 00.00
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Ahmadinejad in Shanghai open to dialogue but still rails at US

Iranian President seems willing to accept international proposal on Iran's nuclear programme, but is pushing for anti-Us, anti-Western block. China and Russia remain cautious.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the international offer aimed at persuading Tehran to curtail its nuclear programs was a step in the right direction. He said he asked his officials to seriously consider it but deflected questions as to how his government would officially respond. Ahmadinejad's overtures came during a news conference in Shanghai where he is attending the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) summit.

Iran had previously sent mixed signals with regard to the offer put forward this month by the 5+1 group, i.e. the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. The offer itself entails economic incentives and security guarantees for Iran if its government suspends uranium enrichment, which many in the West suspect might lead to nuclear weapons. Tehran has always insisted that its nuclear programme is exclusively for civilian purposes.

China, which depends on oil from Iran, has so far resisted pressures to imposed UN sanctions on Tehran, pushing instead for dialogue and a diplomatic approach. Chinese President Hu Jintao today urged Ahmadinejad to "positively respond" to the offer by the 5+1 group, but also said that "China understands Iran's concerns on its right to peacefully use nuclear power".

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is also in attendance of the SCO summit in Shanghai, said after meeting his Iranian counterpart that Iran was ready to enter into negotiations.

At the press conference Mr Ahmadinejad insisted that the purpose of his country's nuclear programme was only civilian and criticised the United States, the only modern country to have used nuclear weapons Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"We believe that war-minded and selfish nations must correct their behaviour if they want to have a place in the future world."

Yesterday during the SCO summit, he railed against the US (without mentioning its name) urging China, Russia and the other central Asian nations to increase their cooperation and thwart the threat of "domineering powers" in international relations in exchange of greater cooperation in the energy field.

SCO includes Russia, China and four Central Asian republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Iran, Pakistan, India and Mongolia have observer status. This year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was an invited guest.

Calls for Iran and Pakistan to become full members were made during the summit. Pakistani President Musharraf suggested his country become an "energy corridor" for a future oil pipeline between Iran and China.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, criticised a few months ago for his repressive domestic policy, accused unnamed countries [i.e. the US] of trying to divide the Central Asian region by labelling some democratic and others undemocratic for their own interests, and slammed the presence of foreign troops in the region. President Karzai responded saying that foreign soldiers were essential to fighting terrorism and strengthening government institutions in his country.

For some analysts this summit might mark the birth of an anti-Western front, but both China and Russia remain cautious.

Beijing, which relies on Iran for a third of its oil imports, does not want to jeopardise its relations with the US, whilst Moscow, which urged greater cooperation in the defence field, stressed that the SCO is not a military alliance against any one nation.

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