Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Middle East news in brief

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 -- With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.

The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.

...The briefings were conducted in Vienna over the past month in advance of a gathering of world leaders this week at the United Nations. President Bush, who is to address the annual General Assembly gathering Wednesday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, plan to use the meeting to press for agreement to threaten international sanctions against Iran.

The president's direct involvement marks an escalation of a two-year effort to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, unless Tehran gives up technology capable of enriching uranium for a bomb. U.S. officials have acknowledged that it has been an uphill campaign, with opposition from key allies who fear a prelude to a military campaign.

Several diplomats said the slide show reminded them of the flawed presentation on Iraq's weapons programs made by then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003. "I don't think they'll lose any support, but it isn't going to win anyone either," said one European diplomat who attended the recent briefing and whose country backs the U.S. position on Iran...

The US administration has embarked on a series of face-to-face meetings with world leaders at the UN summit to try to isolate Iran diplomatically over Iran's push to expand its nuclear programme.

George Bush met Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, on Tuesday and will hold talks with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, tomorrow in an attempt to secure their support for referring Iran to the UN security council, a move that could see sanctions imposed on Tehran. The Chinese leader refused to commit himself.

In support of Mr Bush's diplomatic drive, US officials have delivered hour-long PowerPoint briefings, entitled A History of Concealment and Deception, to diplomats from at least a dozen countries. The officials making the presentation, which includes satellite photographs of Iran's nuclear installations, admit they cannot say definitively that Tehran is covertly trying to secure a nuclear weapons capability. Iran has repeatedly denied it has any ambition to build a nuclear weapon and claims it only wants a civilian nuclear programme.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf have shaken hands at the UN. The move comes two weeks after their governments held their first public talks. The Jewish and Muslim-majority states have no formal ties.

"He asked me how I was. I asked him 'How are you?' And that's very good," President Musharraf told reporters.

The men are among some 150 leaders gathered for a UN World Summit to mark the organisation's 60th anniversary.

Mr Sharon's spokesman said they did not discuss diplomatic issues. Israeli TV said the Pakistani leader had declined an invitation for talks with Mr Sharon during their stay in New York, the Reuters news agency reports.

Correspondents say Israel hopes that its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could usher in a new period in its largely non-existent ties with many Muslim countries.