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Iran's President Visits Russia Despite Protests

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Yekaterinburg.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Yekaterinburg.

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has defied mass protests against his reelection by visiting Russia for a summit where he baited the United States for being ensnared in an economic crisis.

Tehran has been gripped by the biggest antigovernment protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution after disputed official results showed Ahmadinejad scored a landslide in the June 12 election.

Ahmadinejad arrived a day late in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of Central Asian powers, where Iran has observer status.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev briefly greeted Ahmadinejad, becoming the first big-power leader to meet him since the election.

The two leaders joked and smiled for television cameras, although a Kremlin official said Ahmadinejad's late arrival meant a planned bilateral meeting had been cancelled due to lack of time in Medvedev's schedule.

"America is in the grasp of political and economic crisis," Ahmadinejad told the SCO leaders in a speech that touched on the Palestinian issue and reform of the world order.

"The United States and its allies are unable to deal with the crisis," he said through a translator. Medvedev listened carefully while Chinese President Hu Jintao made notes.

No Mention Of Election

In his speech to the SCO, Ahmadinejad made no mention of the June 12 election.

Demonstrators on the streets of Tehran say that the election was rigged to secure victory for the anti-Western Ahmadinejad over the moderate opposition.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on June 15 he was "deeply troubled" by the violence in Iran.

The United States and its European allies have been trying to engage Iran and induce the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter to halt nuclear work that could be used to make an atomic bomb. Iran says it only wants nuclear energy to generate electricity.

Russia, which has supplied Iran with nuclear fuel for a civilian nuclear reactor, says it has been given no evidence to show that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

"The Iranian elections are the internal affair of Iran," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

"We welcome the fact that elections took place, we welcome the...president on Russian soil and see it as symbolic that he made his first visit to Russia. This allows hope for progress in bilateral relations," Ryabkov said.

Iran's president has often stolen the limelight at major conferences, including an SCO meeting in Shanghai in 2006 that was dominated by news about Tehran's nuclear program.

Besides Russia and China, the SCO groups the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.