Security group summit opens in Kazakh capital

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International leaders converged on Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a one-day summit that was to feature Chinese and Russian leaders in rare talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The leaders were expected to discuss regional security and economic cooperation at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security group regarded as a NATO rival.

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 also includes 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 due to hold a meeting broadcast to journalists at 12:15 pm (0615 GMT), followed by a news conference at 1:30 pm.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had earlier met for bilateral talks on Tuesday with guests including Ahmadinejad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev .

Chinese leader Hu Jintao also held talks on Tuesday with the Iranian President Mahmoud 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.

Ahmadinejad was absent from last year's SCO meeting in Tashkent after the UN Security Council agreed new sanctions over the controversial Iranian nuclear drive.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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