Ahmadinejad Denounces U.S. Missile Shield as Threat


By Henry Meyer

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced U.S. missile defense plans as a threat to Asia and said a security group led by Russia and China should counter "outside interference" in the region.

"It is a threat to more than one country," Ahmadinejad said today at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. "It affects a large part of Asia and SCO members."

The SCO, set up with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in 2001 to strengthen regional cooperation and combat terrorism, has become a forum for Russia and China to counter U.S. influence in energy-rich Central Asia. Its decision in 2005 to admit Iran as an observer sparked concern in the U.S.

"Russia and China never tire of reiterating their commitment to a multipolar world and opposition to a unipolar one," said Andrew Kuchins of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The SCO is a manifestation of that in Eurasia," he said in a telephone interview.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned U.S. plans to base interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic, two former Soviet satellite states, and rejects President George W. Bush's assertion the system is aimed at defending Europe from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran.

International System
"Any attempts to resolve global and regional problems unilaterally will not succeed," Putin said today. The SCO favors "strengthening the multipolar international system."

The U.S., whose relations with Russia have deteriorated because of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the proposed missile shield, accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism.

The SCO in 2005 called for a timetable to end the U.S. military presence in Central Asia. Within six months, Uzbekistan ordered out U.S. forces stationed at its Khanabad airbase. The U.S. has a remaining airbase in Kyrgyzstan, which is used to support operations in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose country is battling a resurgent Taliban, was a guest at the meeting. The SCO, in a closing summit statement, said the group wants to cooperate with Afghanistan in fighting drug smuggling and promoting stability.

"Terrorist activity still threatens the security of the entire region," said Karzai.

War Games
Leaders of the SCO will tomorrow fly to the Urals region of Chelyabinsk, Russia to attend war games involving 6,000 soldiers and 100 aircraft called "Peace Mission 2007."

These are the first joint military exercises on Russian soil between Russia and China, once rivals during the Cold War. Two years ago, both countries staged major war games in China, causing concern in the U.S.

In another unwelcome development for the Bush Administration, Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov also accepted an invitation to attend the summit. His long-ruling predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died last year, had kept the energy-rich country isolated and resisted Russian influence.

Russia secured a deal in May to build a new pipeline to import more gas from Turkmenistan, bolstering its dominant hold on supplies to Europe and heading off a competing U.S.-backed plan that would bypass Russian territory.

The SCO pledged to develop energy cooperation within the group. Russia is the world's biggest oil and gas exporter and China is the second-largest energy consumer.

Energy Club
Ahmadinejad repeated a proposal he made at last year's summit in Shanghai to set up an energy club including observer nations that would cooperate in oil and gas exploration, production and transport. Iran holds the world's second-largest oil and gas reserves.

The Iranian leader has been pushing for full membership in the Shanghai group. Analysts say this probably won't happen because Russia and China aren't willing to risk a rupture with the U.S. by inviting its arch-enemy into their club.

Putin, who met Ahmadinejad last year in Shanghai, didn't hold one-on-one talks with the Iranian president in Bishkek.

Admitting Iran, which is under United Nations sanctions over its disputed nuclear program, "would create more trouble than it's worth," said Michael Denison, a Central Asia analyst for the U.K.-based security research company Control Risks.

Along with Iran, Pakistan, India and Mongolia have observer status in the six-member group.