Ahmadinejad to snub Shanghai group meeting: Russian source
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to stay away from a meeting of the Shanghai group this week as ties between Moscow and Tehran are fraying over Tehran's controversial 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 meeting of the group, which his country wants to join.
Russia has not discussed Iran's attendance with Uzbekistan, the host of the summit, and has not asked Ahmadinejad to participate -- or refrain from participating -- in the meeting, the source said.
Ties between traditional allies Moscow and Tehran have recently deteriorated as Russia's patience over Iran's nuclear programme appears to be running 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."
The SCO was set up in 2001 as a counterweight to NATO that would allow Russia and China to rival US influence in Asia.
At the meeting this week, Afghanistan will be represented by its president Hamid Karzai and Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov will also make an appearance, the Kremlin said.
Kyrgyzstan, where a bloody uprising dethroned President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, will be represented by the country's acting foreign minister Ruslan Kazakbayev.
The meeting in the Uzbek capital Tashkent will consider and possibly adopt a new document that will allow new members to join the group, the Kremlin top foreign policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, said.
He refused to say which country has the best chance to win membership in the near future but noted that Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan were all keen to join.
The situation in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan will be among top issues on the agenda, he added.
© 2010 AFP