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Bush and Ahmadinejad to make rival cases in nuclear dispute at UN

AFP | September 19 2006

Presidents George W. Bush of the United States and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran were expected to take their nuclear dispute to the world stage Tuesday, when both were to give speeches to the United Nations General Assembly.
Bush and Ahmadinejad were to be among keynote speakers on the first day of debate by global leaders at the General Assembly -- the last for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who stands down at the end of the year.

The dispute over whether Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons has become one of the main sources of international tension in recent months, along with the wars in Lebanon and Iraq and the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Annan was to open the debate with his final speech to the General Assembly.

The US president was scheduled to be one of the first speakers. He was expected to use his speech to defend the US push for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The United States accuses Iran of using it program to develop civilian nuclear power as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Tehran denies the charge.

Bush was also expected to defend US action in Iraq and hail the US administration's efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East as an antidote to the resentments that fuel extremism.

The Iranian leader, who has repeatedly condemned US attempts to halt his country's nuclear program, was scheduled to be one of the final speakers on the first day.

Speaking in Caracas before leaving for New York, Ahmadinejad on Monday again rejected international pressure to suspend uranium enrichment. Uranium, when enriched, can be used as fuel in nuclear power reactors. When enriched much futher it can be used to a make an atomic bomb.

Talks "are continuing, and I see no reason to speed them up," he told a press conference.

"Iran's nuclear program is very clear and very transparent," the president said. "We have always said that we are willing to negotiate with any country."

If nuclear energy "is something good then everyone should have it, and if it is bad then nobody should have it," he said at the end of his two-day visit.

Ahmadinejad accused Western powers of wanting to control nuclear technology "and when another country needs it they sell it at a high price."

According to diplomats, however, there are signs that Iran is ready to suspend its enrichment program, at least temporarily.

Efforts to counter Iran's nuclear program will be discussed later in the day when the foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States hold a working dinner on the nuclear dispute.

Darfur is another crisis casting a shadow over the UN debate, mainly because of Sudan's refusal to allow a UN peacekeeping force into a region where up to 300,000 people are said to have died in the past three years.

President Jacques Chirac of France, another of the key speakers Tuesday, raised his concerns about "the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe" in Darfur during a working dinner Monday night with the UN secretary general, said his spokesman.

Chirac said that in his speech to the UN General Assembly he would appeal for "the urgent deployment of a UN force to prevent this humanitarian catastrophe."

The Sudan government opposes the deployment of a UN force but has indicated it would agree to an extension of the mandate of the African Union peacekeeping force already in Darfur.

White House officials said Bush would use his UN speech to announced he is naming a special envoy to help end the bloodshed in Sudan. A senior official said the likely choice was the former head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Andrew Natsios.

The New York Times on Tuesday said Bush could "make a difference" if he discarded his usual UN script and "devoted this speech to the horrors of Darfur and committed himself personally to stopping the genocide."

Darfur is to be discussed at a ministerial meeting Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN gathering.

Efforts to get Middle East peace efforts back on track are also to be discussed this week at the UN Security Council and in bilateral meetings on the sidelines.


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