Iranian & Chinese presidents to meet next week

(IranMania) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will travel to Shanghai next week and hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Iran's nuclear program, China's foreign ministry said, AFP reported.

Ahmadinejad will travel to China for the June 15 leaders' summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional forum that groups China and Russia with four Central Asian states, ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, reports Trend.

Iran, along with Pakistan, Mongolia and India, has observer status at the SCO and their leaders have all been invited to attend the summit.

But, with the global round of diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program at a critical point, it is the presence of Ahmadinejad that is likely to attract the biggest attention.

"President Hu Jintao will hold bilateral discussions with President Ahmadinejad ... the Iran nuclear issue will be discussed," ministry spokesman Liu said.

"China and Iran have communicated and will communicate on the nuclear issue to enhance mutual understanding so as to make continuous efforts to reach a peaceful solution of the Iranian nuclear issue."

China has close economic ties with Iran, particularly in the energy sector, and throughout the drawn out diplomatic negotiations on the nuclear issue has sided with Russia in fending off strong US-led action against Tehran.

On the energy front, although Iran is not yet a major supplier to China, the two sides have been negotiating since 2004 on oil and gas exports deal that could be worth more than $100 bln.

Analysts have said China's relations with Iran are also affected by Beijing's traditional affinity with third-world countries that are trying to counter the interference of powerful nations.

But, after the United States made concessions, China last week agreed to support a European-devised plan that offers incentives to Iran if it suspends its uranium enrichment program.

Nevertheless, the United States remains wary about China's relationship with Iran, with those fears potentially exacerbated by Ahmadinejad's trip to Shanghai.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the weekend criticized China and Russia, the two largest members of the SCO, for seeking to draw Iran closer to the group.

"It strikes me as strange that one would want to bring into an organization that says it's against terrorism... one of the leading terrorist nations in the world, Iran," Rumsfeld said in Singapore.

Officially formed only in 2001, the SCO has gradually attracted more international attention, with some observers seeing it as an embryonic Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Alongside Russia and China, the four Central Asian members of the SCO are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The organization has recently expanded its original mandate of fighting terrorism, religious extremism and separatism to broader security issues as well as economics and trade.

But in a briefing on Wednesday, the Chinese secretary general of the SCO, Zhang Deguang, rejected any comparisons with NATO as "entirely baseless".

"The SCO is not directed at any third party," Zhang said.

Aside from Ahmadinejad, Liu said Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Mongolian leader Nambaryn Enkhbayar would attend the forum, alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the Central Asian member states.

Afghanistan President Harmid Karzai will also attend the meeting, and then stay on for an official visit from June 18 to 21, Liu said.

India will be represented at the meeting by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, Liu said.

During the summit, Hu will hold one-on-one meetings with all the leaders who attend, according to Liu.

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