Iran General NewsAllies may split over call to ban Iran from...

Allies may split over call to ban Iran from finals

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The Times: The participation of Iran in the World Cup finals this summer is beginning to open up cracks in the West’s previously united front against the Tehran regime. The Times

From Tom Baldwin in Washington and Richard Beeston

THE participation of Iran in the World Cup finals this summer is beginning to open up cracks in the West’s previously united front against the Tehran regime.

The Bush Administration is understood to be alarmed about the prospect of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline President of Iran, attending the football tournament in Germany.

President Bush had been expected to raise the issue this week when he held talks with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. Neither American nor German officials would confirm that the subject had been discussed, with both sides declining to comment on a “very private meeting”.

A spokesman for the White House said: “The question about Ahmadinejad going to Germany is still very much up in the air. The President may have asked how Merkel intends to deal with it [but”> this is a decision the German Government has got to make.”

Senator John McCain, the front-runner for the next Republican presidential nomination, recently tabled a congressional resolution calling for Iran to be thrown out of the World Cup as part of a sanctions package designed to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“The [Iranian”> national team is scheduled to play its first match in Nuremberg, Germany,” Mr McCain said. “There is a cynical historical irony to this, in light of President Ahmadinejad’s vile statements denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel’s eradication.”

Taking action against Iran would, in the view of the US administration, be “incendiary”.

Jack Straw, who until yesterday was the British Foreign Secretary, has also expressed doubts about whether it would work. In any case, FIFA, the football governing body, would not countenance expelling Iran without a United Nations Security Council resolution authorising such sanctions. This is unlikely to be forthcoming given the stated reluctance of China and Russia.

German officials said that a country hosting the World Cup had to admit members of the team and the head of state. “Ahmadinejad has the right to come to Germany to attend the World Cup,” a German diplomat said. “But this only applies to the head of state. His entourage, his bodyguards and aides would all require visas to travel to Germany. So far we have had no signals that the Iranian President wants to come. We certainly have no intention of inviting him.”

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