UNITED NATIONS — A global nuclear conference that opens Monday is shaping up as a showdown between Iran and the United States, with each side jockeying for allies in the escalating dispute over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
The New York conference is held every five years to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 40-year-old pact aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Technically, Iran is not on the agenda.
But the Obama administration sees the conference as a crucial opportunity to advance ideas to strengthen the fraying treaty, such as punishing nuclear cheaters and further regulating the supply of nuclear fuel.
Iran is expected to block such steps. Any decision by the conference must be reached by consensus.
“This meeting is all about Iran,” said a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivity. “Because Iran poses the biggest threat to the survival of the treaty.”
The fireworks will begin with a morning speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and an afternoon address by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton said Sunday that Ahmadinejad would try to divert attention from his nuclear program at a moment when an American-led drive to impose new economic sanctions is picking up steam.
Iran denies that it is building a bomb. But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, censured the Islamic republ…