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. Non Aligned summit calls for unconditional talks on nuclear Iran
HAVANA, Sept 12 (AFP) Sep 13, 2006
Representatives from more than 100 developing nations meeting in Havana called Tuesday for unconditional negotiations to resolve the tense standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Delegates at the six-day Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit also lashed out at Israel, but dropped a proposed demand it be punished for "warcrimes."

While the Middle East was high on the agenda, with the expected arrival of the Syrian and Lebanese presidents, the gathering was also the scene of rival lobbying by Venezuela and Guatemala for a seat on the UN Security Council. Caracas claimed it had locked in the votes to get a seat.

As senior officials met for a second day, it remained unclear whether Cuban President Fidel Castro, 80, would show up in the summit in what would be his first public appearance since he underwent intestinal surgery in July.

The officials hammered out separate resolutions on Iran and the Palestinian territories, while also fine-tuning a draft final document the heads of state and government are to adopt on Saturday.

Issues such as terrorism, Iran and the Middle East were hotly debated at the closed-door meetings, participants said.

On Iran, the officials essentially updated a resolution adopted by a NAM meeting in May, but added a paragraph stating the need for an "unconditional resumption of dialogue," the head of a prominent delegation said privately.

The statement adopted at the May gathering in Putrajaya, Malaysia insisted any country had the right to use nuclear energy and welcomed what it said was Iran's "voluntary confidence-building efforts" aimed at resolving the issue.

The delegates also worked on a document demanding that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, stop its "aggression" in Gaza and release jailed Palestinian officials.

"When that happens it will open the door for the resumption of the political process," said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations.

But a senior official said the delegates dropped a proposed paragraph that called the Israeli actions "warcrimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable and brought the justice."

Mansour said statements by the NAM would add to the pressure on the Security Council to implement its resolutions on the Palestinian territories.

"We hope the Security Council will begin the process of standing up to its responsibility," he told AFP.

Several delegations also engaged in intense lobbying to garner support for specific issues.

Venezuela insisted it now had secured enough votes to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

"We can assure the world that Venezuela will have a position on the Security Council as a non-permanent member," the Venezuelan vice foreign minister, Jorge Valero, told journalists.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez planned to meet Castro for breakfast on Wednesday.

Venezuela and Cuba, as well as North Korea, Iran and Syria, are among the staunch foes of the United States in the NAM.

But the summit also brings together several US allies.

"There are many moderate voices in the movement," K.C. Singh, who heads the Indian delegation, told AFP.

The gathering brings together leaders from about 50 developing nations, and high-level representatives from dozens more.

Heads of state and government will meet on Friday and Saturday following two days of talks at the ministerial level.

Raul Castro, who is temporarily replacing his brother Fidel as Cuba's president, made his appearance at the summit and insisted that his sibling was still giving orders.

Raul Castro appeared on Cuban television with Laos President Choummaly Sayasone, and the two discussed the "excellent development of bilateral relations between Cuba and Laos," said Cuban television.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Telesur, a regional television channel, Raul Castro said his 80-year-old brother was still working hard.

"Don't think that he is laying down in a bed," said Raul Castro, 75. "He is on the telephone giving orders."

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