Ahmadinejad joins China, Russia leaders at summit

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The leaders of Russia and China on Wednesday joined Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a rare encounter at a summit in Kazakhstan aimed at improving security in Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Host Kazakah President Nursultan Nazarbayev urged the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a security group regarded as a NATO rival founded in 2001, to take a more active role in ensuring regional security.

But most attention was focused on Ahmadinejad, who was absent from last year's SCO meeting in Tashkent after the UN Security Council agreed new sanctions over the controversial Iranian nuclear drive.

"I believe together we can reform the way the world is managed. We can restore the tranquility of the world," he said in a characteristically firebrand speech peppered with rhetorical questions.

"The Iranian nation proudly shakes the hands of all who strive to make such a future."

Chinese leader Hu Jintao held talks on Tuesday with Ahmadinejad, who is making a rare appearance at a big international meeting, discussing Tehran's nuclear programme.

China urged Iran to participate in the six-party talks on nuclear energy and "take substantial steps in respect of establishing trust" and "speed up the process of dialogue," the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Tehran used to rely on Moscow as a dependable ally in its standoff over the nuclear programme but relations have rapidly deteriorated as Russia increased pressure on Iran after Medvedev became president.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Nazarbayev were later to have a trilateral meeting with Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the summit, a Kazakh diplomatic source who asked not to be named told AFP.

Nazarbayev said in his opening address that the organisation had to become a greater force after it showed little capacity to react during last year's uprising and ethnic violence in member state Kyrgyzstan.

"We watched over two sharp political conflicts and a coup in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and our organisation did not and could not make any decisions," he said.

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai attending as a guest, Nazarbayev also expressed alarm that drug trafficking in Afghanistan had increased by a factor of ten in the last decade.

"It is clear that the source and reasons of this crime against humanity are far outside the borders of Afghanistan."

The six-member SCO was set up in 2001 as a security counterweight to NATO that would allow Russia and China to rival US influence in Asia. It is now also looking to cooperate at an economic level.

Its membership includes the ex-Soviet Central Asian states and with the likes of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attending meetings as observers, its summits bring together an eclectic gathering of world leaders.

The 10th anniversary summit opened for a full day of business in Astana earlier Wednesday, with the leaders holding a meeting broadcast to journalists at 12:15 pm (0615 GMT), followed by a news conference at 1:30 pm.

Nazarbayev had earlier met for bilateral talks on Tuesday with guests including Ahmadinejad, Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Medvedev.

The summit is the latest in a string of big international meetings hosted by Astana, Kazakhstan's shiny new capital, which in the last months has already welcomed a summit of the OSCE and the annual meeting of the EBRD.

Kazakhstan has embarked on a tireless campaign of self-promotion to show itself as Central Asia's most stable and prosperous state although rights activists complain the country shows little tolerance for any dissent.

© 2011 AFP

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