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Iran Claims Top Billing at U.N. Nuclear Conference

This story was filed by CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk at United Nations Headquarters. The world stage is set for a showdown next week, but this time, the nuclear summit will not be hosted by President Obama in Washington, but by the International Atomic Energy Agency at United Nations headquarters, and Iran's defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at left, is to be a featured speaker. The event is the latest review conference of the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They take place every five years, as mandated by the treaty, and this year, the stakes couldn't be higher. Early Thursday morning, Iranian U.N. Spokesman Mohammad Reza Bak Sahraee told CBS News "the participation of President Ahmadinejad demonstrates the firm commitment of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the NPT and the success of its Review Conference." More significantly, Bak Sahraee said Iran's President give a speech "in the morning session of the first day of the conference." Iran was slated to take the stage after the U.S. gave its presentation, but because Iran is sending its leader and most other nations are only sending foreign ministers or secretaries of state, Iran will be granted a featured role. Ahmadinejad's participation will depend on U.S. approval of his visa request, but the U.S. State Department has indicated that they are likely to allow Ahmadinejad to attend. The NPT review conference kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 3 in the General Assembly Hall at U.N. Headquarters, and Ewen Buchanan of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs tells CBS News that, "in theory, the speeches should be only five minutes," and that the U.N. will sound a buzzer at eight minutes. That's easier said than done. We here at U.N. Headquarters remember well the rambling speech of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last September. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation at the conference. Around the corridors of the U.N., diplomats are expecting a marked contrast to the sounds of success we heard from President Obama when he concluded the largest nuclear summit ever presided over by a U.S. president. Mr. Obama expressed confidence that the U.N. Security Council would rally around a new round of tough sanctions against Iran. Israel's President Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to attend President Obama's summit and, for the most part, that kept the issue of Israel's unconfirmed nuclear weapons arsenal off the agenda. But at the U.N., the issue of Israel's nuclear capability will surely be center stage. Ahmadinejad is expected to repeat his accusations against the U.S., Israel and the members of the U.N. Security Council (France and the U.K. in particular), which have lined up to draft a new, tougher round of sanctions. He is expected to appeal to developing nations' interest in nuclear technology for energy, which is permitted under the NPT. Iran comes to the U.N. event armed with allies. Egypt has already filed a working paper which calls for a non-proliferation meeting to create a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons, and which calls for Israel (not a signatory of the NPT) to participate. Brazil and Turkey are also expected to take some of the heat off Iran. Both nations are sending foreign ministers and are non-permanent members of the Security Council. China continues to balk at tough sanctions, which are the subject of negotiations of the five permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council, plus Germany. Iran: U.S. Using "Nuclear Blackmail" "The nuclear issue of Iran has turned into a big test for the entire world," Ahmadinejad said at a meeting in Kampala, Uganda earlier this month. President Obama appears to agree: he made working toward a nuclear weapons-free world the focus of his U.N. visit last September and a reduction of those weapons the basis for a U.S.-Russia treaty, and he made the issue the flagship of his Washington nuclear summit. Obama Seeks Legacy on Reducing World's Nuclear Weapons But Obama's view -- that the NPT review in New York will be a good time to coalesce the world against Iran's defiance, will be sharply tested.
  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.