Monday 15 October 2007

Defiant Putin will travel to Iran despite suicide bomb threat

Times Online

President Putin said today that he would go ahead with an historic trip to Iran despite a warning from Russian security services that a gang of suicide bombers were plotting to assassinate him during the trip.

"Of course I am going to Iran," Mr Putin said after meeting Chancellor Merkel in the German city of Wiesbaden, from where he was due to fly to Tehran later today.

"If I always listened to all the various threats and the recommendations of the special services I would never leave home.“

Mr Putin will be the first Kremlin leader to visit Iran since Joseph Stalin flew to a summit with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, his wartime allies, in 1943.

But the Kremlin confirmed last night that he had been told of a conspiracy to kill him during his visit for a summit of Caspian Sea nations tomorrow.

After insisting this morning that the trip would go ahead, officials had then suggested it might be cancelled because of the threat against the Russian leader. The Interfax news agency reported that Russian special services had learnt that several teams of suicide bombers and kidnappers had been training to kill or capture the Russian leader.

Kremlin officials had earlier suggested that the trip might be cancelled because of the threat against Mr Putin.

Any cancellation would certainly have angered Iran, which denied reports about an assassination plot and portrayed them as disinformation spread by adversaries hoping to spoil Russian-Iranian relations.

"Such kinds of false news won’t have any impact on the plans that we have for (Mr Putin’s) visit," said Muhammad Ali Hosseini, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Mr Putin is due to meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his Iranian counterpart, and take part in the Caspian nations summit tomorrow with the leaders of Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, where they will discuss dividing up the energy-rich sea.

It is still unclear who the alleged plotters might be and why Iran would be chosen for any assassination attempt.

Russia is opposed to demands from the United States and other Western nations for tougher United Nations sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear ambitions. It is one of the few countries that has maintained good relations with Tehran and is continuing to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr for Iran.

The US and European powers accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, although Mr Ahmadinejad insists that the programme is purely for civil energy purposes.

Under threat:

— Security officials in Ukraine foiled an assassination attempt on President Putin in Yalta in 2000

— Azeri secret service uncovered a plot against him in Baku, the capital, in 2001

— The Kremlin linked both alleged attempts to Chechen terrorists. Mr Putin, as Prime Minister, sent troops into Chechnya in 1999 to crush separatists

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