/ 24 September 2007

Ahmadinejad denies rush to war with US

Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on Sunday there was ”no war in the offing” between his country and the United States.

He told the CBS programme 60 Minutes: ”It’s wrong to think that Iran and the US are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing.”

At the beginning of a week in which and he and US President George Bush will deliver competing speeches to the United Nations in the battle for international support, he repeated a longstanding denial of accusations that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, asking: ”What need do we have for a bomb?”

After weeks of increasing speculation about the possibility of war between Iran and the US, both sides seemed anxious to calm nerves. The head of the US central command, Admiral William Fallon, told al-Jazeera television: ”This constant drumbeat of conflict strikes me as not helpful and not useful.”

Speeches from Bush and Ahmadinejad to the UN Security Council on Tuesday will be scrutinised for any sign of compromise on Iran’s nuclear programme, and the ”proxy war” for control of Iraq, which have raised fears of a direct conflict.

Ahmadinejad is due to present a preview on Monday at a forum at New York’s Columbia University. The university authorities have refused to cancel the event despite protests over the Iranian leader’s views on the Holocaust and Israel. Demonstrations threaten to bring the city’s Upper West Side to a halt.

The Bush-Ahmadinejad clash is likely to be the most dramatic moment in a highly charged week at the UN, when some of the most intractable and dangerous problems facing the world will be debated.

On Sunday former British prime minister Tony Blair made his public debut as a Middle East envoy, reporting to his new employers, the Quartet of world powers (the US, EU, UN and Russia) and appearing at a press conference, where he insisted there was new hope for Middle East peace.

”The most important thing is that things are moving again,” he said. A regional peace conference the US is to host in November has provided a ”political horizon that puts credibility back into the process”. It was also vital to have change on the ground that ”gives hope to people, both Israelis and Palestinians, that life is going to improve”.

While Blair seeks backing for the peace process from would-be donor countries, today the focus will shift to the issue of global warming.

More than 70 world leaders will meet to attempt to build momentum for a replacement agreement to the Kyoto accord.

However, the meeting will not include George Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown or several other leaders of the big world economies and is only likely to conclude with a vague communiqué. Its significance will be the pressure it puts on the US to stay within the UN framework in tackling global warming.

The US will host its own meeting of leading economic powers to discuss the issue in Washington at the end of the week, when Bush will push for a much looser agreement on limiting greenhouse emissions than the deal being pursued by Europe. His plan would allow countries to observe their own targets.

On Saturday, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, agreed to increase the UN’s role in Iraq with the expansion of its Baghdad office, reopening of an office in Basra, and opening of one in Irbil, Kurdistan.

On Sunday it was Afghanistan’s turn, as President Hamid Karzai met UN member states to appeal for more support for his embattled government in the face of a resurgent Taliban in the south.

At the end of the week, officials from Serbia and Kosovo will hold talks at the fringes of the General Assembly meeting. It will be the highest-level encounter between the two sides since the 1999 war, and the first direct meeting in this year’s negotiations over Kosovo’s future status.

Kosovo is threatening to secede if its independence is not agreed by December 10, the UN deadline for the current round of talks to end. Russia supports Serbia’s effort to block independence and argues that December 10 should not mark the end of diplomacy.

A senior Russian diplomat said Moscow still believed a compromise could be reached. ”Both parties are only at the beginning of an interesting process of bridging their first asking positions.”

The week ahead

Monday:Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran attends a forum at Columbia University in New York, amid heated controversy over his appearance

The biggest meeting to date of world leaders on climate change is held, intended to be a statement of collective determination to deal with the problem under the auspices of the UN

Tuesday: George Bush and Ahmadinejad address the UN General Assembly.

Friday: David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, addresses the UN

First direct meeting for many years between senior Serbian and Kosovan officials over the Kosovo’s future

Meeting between the UK, France, Germany, US, Russia and China on Iran’s nuclear programme. – Guardian Unlimited Â