Ahmadinejad to snub Shanghai group meeting: Russian source

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Ahmadinejad to snub Shanghai group meeting: Russian source

Moscow (AFP) June 9, 2010 – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to stay away from a meeting of the Shanghai group this week as ties between Moscow and Tehran fray over Iran’s nuclear programme, a high-ranking Russian source said.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security group set up as an alternative to NATO in 2001, will hold a meeting in Uzbekistan Thursday and Friday when it will consider opening its doors to new members.

Besides heavyweights Russia and China, the group also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Several countries, including Iran, India and Pakistan, hold observer status and have in the past expressed interest in joining the regional grouping.

“The Iranian president will not be there,” a high-ranking Russian diplomatic source told reporters in comments released Wednesday.

He said Iran planned to send a delegation to the summit but refused to say why Ahmadinejad himself chose to stay away from the group, which his country wants to join.

Ahmadinejad is Wednesday due to hold talks with President Emomali Rakhmon in the Tajik capital Dushanbe and attend a UN-sponsored conference on resource security. On Thursday he will head to China for a visit to the Shanghai Expo.

“Iran’s president will not be flying from Dushanbe to Tashkent to take part in the SCO. Ahmadinejad will be flying on Thursday morning from Dushanbe to Shanghai for the Expo,” an Iranian diplomat told AFP in Dushanbe.

The diplomat, who was travelling in Ahmadinejad’s delegation, declined to comment on Ahmadinejad’s reasons for not attending the conference.

Ties between traditional allies Moscow and Tehran have recently deteriorated as Russia’s patience over Iran’s nuclear programme runs thin and Moscow has expressed willingness to support UN sanctions against the defiant Islamic republic.

Ahmadinejad — who chose Russia for his first foreign trip since his landslide re-election victory last year — last month accused Russia of “siding with those who have been our enemy for 30 years.”

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