Iran a last-minute addition to a Munich Security conference that is looking beyond Europe

By Desmond Butler, AP
Friday, February 5, 2010

Iran last minute addition to Munich security event

MUNICH — Iran’s foreign minister was added at the last minute Friday to the Munich Security Conference, joining the prestigious gathering of the world’s top defense officials amid signs Tehran is trying to revive talks on the country’s nuclear program.

It was not clear whether Manouchehr Mottaki was expected to attend the entire three-day conference, but he was scheduled to hold late-night discussions with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

The appearance comes after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this week suggested he would at last agree to export a significant amount of uranium for processing. The U.N. is considering a fourth round of sanctions against the country for failing to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

Iran now possesses more than enough enriched uranium for at least one nuclear warhead and the U.N. Security Council has demanded the Islamic Republic freeze its enrichment program. An agreement worked out by the International Atomic Energy Agency would delay Tehran’s ability to make such a weapon by requiring the country to export 70 percent of its uranium stock and then wait for up to a year for it to be processed and returned as fuel rods for a research reactor.

Ahmadinejad’s statement was met with widespread skepticism, and raised suspicions that Iran was just trying to buy time.

In Berlin on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle — both of whom will be attending the Munich conference — said Iran must answer remaining questions about the nature of its nuclear program.

They stressed that they remained ready to continue negotiations toward a diplomatic solution. Westerwelle warned, however, that the international community’s patience was “not infinite.”

Lavrov said he would meet Mottaki later Friday in Munich, and urged him to submit information on Iran’s nuclear program to the IAEA.

“Under certain circumstances, if there is no other possible solution, then we will have to discuss it in the Security Council,” Lavrov told reporters.

The conference opens with an evening address by China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

The annual conference has long been a strategy session for U.S. and European leaders on defense cooperation. But in its 46th year, the forum’s organizers want to reflect Asia’s growing role on the world stage.

In addition to the Iranian nuclear program, the gathering, in which world leaders and top diplomats talk policy in an informal setting, is expected to focus on ongoing instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the development of the A400 transport plane, a seven-nation project through the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company that has been plagued with cost overruns.

The U.S. delegation appears more modest than in the past, with top officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likely to skip out. Vice President Joe Biden headed last year’s U.S. delegation. This year, White House national security adviser, Ret. Gen. James Jones will be the senior U.S. official.

The event’s chief organizer, Wolfgang Ischinger, has said that trans-Atlantic security will remain the central theme of the conference, but that he has intentionally sought to include Asia.

Besides Jiechi, senior officials from countries including India and Pakistan are expected to attend. Jiechi will arrive in the wake of recent tension with the Obama administration over a U.S. announcement of a major arms sale to Taiwan and accusations that Chinese hackers broke into Google e-mail accounts to spy on activists.

Stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely to again be a focus. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke will also be in the mix among an estimated 300 participants.

U.S. and Russian officials will also have the opportunity to discuss the progress of negotiations on a new arms control agreement to replace the Cold War-era START treaty and further reduce arsenals.

Both sides have said that an agreement is near.

Security is expected to be tight at the event. German police say they are expecting around 5,000 demonstrators and have warned that some have called for violent protest.

Associated Press writer Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.

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