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India-Pakistan Talks, Iran Lobbying Expected At Havana Summit

The Convention Palace in Havana during the opening ceremony of the high official's meeting in the framework of the XIV Non-Aligned Movement summit in Cuba, 11 September 2006. Photo courtesy of Adalberto Roque and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Havana (AFP) Sep 11, 2006
Representatives from most of the globe's developing nations Monday began talks at a Havana summit that Iran was likely to use to bolster support for its controversial nuclear program. "We're closing ranks against a world ruled by the most powerful," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said in his opening speech.

The spotlight of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) gathering was also on India and Pakistan, whose leaders have said they would hold talks aimed at relaunching their peace process.

Cuba could share center stage amid speculation the ailing President Fidel Castro, 80, might make his first public appearance since undergoing intestinal surgery in July.

The gathering brings together leaders from about 50 developing nations, and high-level representatives from another 50, including some of the most outspoken foes of the United States, such as Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Syria.

Among the prominent leaders slated to attend is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has defied UN demands that he halt uranium enrichment, the process used to make nuclear reactor fuel but also atomic bomb material.

Ahmadinejad's delegation will seek "to draw solidarity from the movement for its legitimate right to develop nuclear energy," according to Cuba's vice foreign affairs minister Abelardo Moreno.

The NAM backed Iran in the standoff during a two-day ministerial meeting in Malaysia in May, stressing the right of all nations to develop nuclear technology for research and energy production.

The summit will also give nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan an opportunity to jumpstart peace talks aimed at resolving their decades-old dispute over Kashmir, a Himalayan region divided between the two countries but claimed in its entirety by both.

"I hope and will make full efforts to make the talks substantive, so that these are result-oriented," said Pakistini President Pervez Musharraf, who was scheduled to hold meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the summit.

The bilateral talks would be the first high-level contact between the two countries since multiple blasts on commuter trains in India's financial capital Mumbai in July stalled the peace process. New Delhi had pointed the finger at Islamabad and a Pakistan-backed Islamic rebel group for the blasts which killed 183 people and wounded more than 800.

Cuba and several other members of the 116-strong NAM have stressed the need to give new impetus and focus to the movement created during the Cold War to counter the hegemonic influence of the superpowers. Now, they say, they must work against overwhelming US might.

"The movement is more necessary than ever," Perez Roque argued.

As the gathering began, it still remained unclear whether Fidel Castro would be well enough to show up as scheduled for the summit itself which convenes after four days of preparatory talks.

Perez Roque said that Castro would receive "some foreign dignitaries attending the summit and almost certainly UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The gathering should mark the international debut by Raul Castro, 75, who is officially in charge of Cuba until his more prominent brother is well enough to get back to work full time.

The summit will form the backdrop for rival lobbying from Venezuela and Guatemala for one of the 10 temporary seats on the 15-member UN Security Council.

Venezuela's staunchly anti-US President Hugo Chavez recently conducted a 10-day tour of Asia and Africa that earned the oil-rich South American country support for its UN bid as well as trade deals.

Washington has made no secret of the fact it hoped Guatemala and not Venezuela would get to represent Latin America at the Security Council.

Many of the leaders at the summit will also attend the UN General Assembly, which starts on Tuesday.

The heads of state and government were slated to start their talks on Friday, after four days of preparatory meetings.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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