Iran urges Central Asian bloc to counter West

Iran's president has urged a bloc of Central Asian countries to expand, saying it needs to develop into an organization that actively counters interference in the region by Western powers.

Iran'spresident has urged abloc of Central Asian countries to expand, saying it needs todevelop into an organization that can actively counter interference in the region by Western powers.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed the move Thursdayin Shanghai at a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, a group of six Asian countries led by China and Russia that meets regularly to discuss border disputes, militants, defence, energy and economic co-operation.

The leaders of the SCO decided to broaden the group at the session to include observers from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Mongolia.

And that gave Iran's president the opportunity to bring up one of his pet peeves: the perceived habit of some powerful Western countries to interfere in the internal policiesof the Middle East and Central Asia.

"We want this organization [the SCO] to develop into a powerful body influential in regional and international politics, economics and trade, serving to block threats and unlawful strong-arm interference from various countries," Ahmadinejad told the delegates.

His speech raised eyebrows in Washington, which doesn't want Iran, China and Russia — three powers that don’t always see eye to eye with the West— forming a bloc of Central Asia countries that could counter U.S. influence in the region.

Ahmadinejad thanked China for its hospitality and praised the Shanghai group's potential clout, especially when it comes to providing a counterbalance to Iran's nemesis, the United States.

He said the dominant Western powers use force to interfere in the internal affairs of other states.

Iran offers more oil to China, Russia

Ahmadinejad also offered oil as an incentive as he tried to win powerful friends in his long-standing dispute with the West.

He put Iran's large oil reserves on the bargaining table, asking China, Russia and the other countries at the summit to sign new energy agreements.

He also promised that Iran would host a meeting of Asian energy ministers to look at co-operation in exploration, exploitation and transportation of oil.

Ahmadinejad has a handful of bargaining chips up his sleeve. Iran is the fourth-largest exporter of oil in the world, and China is one of its most needy customers.

Nuclear crisis a hiddensubtext

Ahmadinejad did not mention nuclear power in his speech to the Asian delegates, but it was clearly a subtext.

Tehran has come under increasing pressure from Western countries over its recent decision to resume uranium enrichment activities amid a veil of secrecy.

Although Iran says its moves are only meant to develop nuclear power plants, theUnited States and some European Union countries fear Tehran intends to pursue nuclear weapons.

The United Nations Security Council has offered Iran a package of incentives to resume negotiations to suspend its nuclear program.

It's also ponderingthe possibility of economic or other sanctions if Tehran refuses.

China and Russia are ina difficult position because they support the United Nations in its campaign to defuse Iran's nuclear ambitions, butdon't wanteconomic sanctions used.

Russian and Chinese officials also sympathize with Ahmadinejad's complaints about interference, having levelled similar accusations against the West in the past.