SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - Larissa Abramova, a Ukrainian violinist, thought her red dress was lovely. But it apparently offended Iran's foreign minister so much he boycotted a gala dinner attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abramova said yesterday that she was wearing a red, sleeveless dress with matching gloves coming up past the elbow and a red scarf draped over the low-cut front. She chose the ensemble especially for Thursday's dinner for dozens of the world's top diplomats because she knew she would "look beautiful in it," she said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit had hoped the occasion would be a chance for Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Rice to have an informal talk on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq in this Red Sea resort town. A place had been set for him across from Rice at the dinner.

But Mottaki stayed away from the dinner at a restaurant on the hotel's beach. He went only as far as the lobby, where Abramova was playing at the bar, entertaining the dozens of diplomats passing by on their way to the restaurant. He entered the lobby and sat down briefly, never going out to the restaurant, Aboul Gheit said.

Through a translator, Mottaki told reporters there were problems with "Islamic standards" at the dinner. "There was something wrong with that, so I offered my apologies," Mottaki said. "There was no other reason."

A U.S. official with Rice's delegation said Mottaki complained to the Egyptians that the hotel violinist was dressed too revealingly. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the dinner was a closed affair.

Abramova said she could not believe her dress was to blame.

"I think the problem is not in me and not in my dress," she said, speaking alternately in English and through an interpreter. "It was some other reason because he left the party."

Abramova, who plays at the hotel every night, said she saw many diplomats in suits passing by but did not recognize Mottaki or notice him sitting. At the time, she was playing her usual repertoire of classic pop songs such as the themes from Love Story, Dr. Zhivago and The Godfather.

She said the problem could also have been the women in miniskirts in the hotel. The dress code for women in Sharm el-Sheikh, a secular party town, falls far short of the strict Islamic one - including the head scarf - enforced in Iran. Shorts, bikinis and bathing suits are more the norm here.

When Abramova showed up last evening for her nightly show, she was surrounded by journalists and cameras - the unexpected center of a diplomatic fuss. She said she felt "a little bit embarrassed" by the attention.

Last night, she was wearing black pants and a black top with diaphanous sleeves.

Abramova, who has been working in Egypt for three years, said she was born in Russia, but her family later moved to Ukraine, where she gained citizenship. Her husband, a Ukrainian pianist, accompanied her last night - but not Thursday.

A Smuggling Ring Hit; 5 U.S. Deaths

U.S.-led forces yesterday arrested 16 suspected Shiite militants accused of smuggling powerful bomb components from Iran, and clashes between Shiite factions erupted in two cities. The military announced the deaths of five U.S. soldiers.

The U.S. military said

one soldier was killed yesterday by a bomb south of Baghdad. Four died Thursday - two in bombings in the capital and two in combat in Anbar province.

A senior U.S. commander was wounded by small- arms fire while inspecting a disputed security barrier being built around a Sunni enclave in Baghdad, the U.S. military said yesterday. The officer's name was not released.

The bodies of 20 executed men were found, 15 in Baghdad. A roadside bomb killed five Iraqi policemen and wounded two at a checkpoint in a mixed neighborhood in southwest Baghdad. Three Shiite brothers were found dead in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood, and a Shiite mosque on the neighborhood's edge was burned by insurgents, who also kidnapped the mosque's guards, the Interior Ministry said.

Hundreds of angry Shiites poured onto the streets of two cities south of the Iraqi capital yesterday to protest an Al-Jazeera host who questioned the leadership of Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

- Inquirer Wire ServicesEndText