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Iran is not alone

Print edition : Oct 05, 2012 T+T-
A view of the opening session of the summit.-

A view of the opening session of the summit.-

The successful Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran shows that Iran is far from being isolated internationally and that in fact it remains a major player in the West Asian region.

The 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) took place in Tehran from August 26 to 31 at a time when war clouds were hovering over the horizon in West Asia. Israel was making repeated military threats against Iran and the situation in Syria was threatening to get out of control. Israel and its major ally, the United States, tried to persuade India, Egypt and other important countries to either boycott the summit or send low-level delegations. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not have avoided a trip to Tehran given Indias status as a founding member of the movement. Besides, a visit by the Indian Prime Minister had been long-pending. India was duty-bound to allay the misgivings in Iran about some of its recent policy decisions relating to the imposition of unilateral sanctions by the West. Also, bilateral issues needed to be discussed.

Ahead of the summit, India, Iran and Afghanistan held discussions to finalise the plan to develop the strategic Chabahar port in south-eastern Iran. This port will provide an alternative route for Indian goods to Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

The newly elected Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsy, was present to hand over the NAM presidency to Iran. The last summit was presided over by his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Incidentally, Morsys visit was the first high-level visit by an Egyptian leader since the Iranian revolution of 1979.

The leaders of India, Egypt and Iran were photographed sharing the high table. India and Egypt have a pronounced pro-U.S. tilt in their foreign policies. Iran was perhaps trying to make the point that the U.S. now could not take their support for granted. Indian officials, however, took pains to explain that Manmohan Singh was not aware of the seating arrangements and was taken by surprise when he was positioned next to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Manmohan Singh had long, separate meetings with Irans Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Ahmadinejad. India wants to emphasise the idea that it still values its traditional relationship with Iran and will strive to maintain strategic autonomy in the conduct of bilateral relations.

Both Washington and Tel Aviv had advised United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon against going to Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had personally appealed to him not to attend the summit, brazenly describing Iran as a regime that represents the greatest threat to world peace. It is another matter that Ban Ki-moon, in his interaction with the media, mainly echoed the views of Irans enemies. He dutifully criticised Iran for its human rights record and its stand on Israel and on the issue of nuclear proliferation.

During his meeting with Ban Ki-moon, Khamenei demanded that the international body take action against Israels huge unaccounted nuclear arsenal. In his opening speech at the summit, he emphasised that Iran had no desire to possess nuclear weapons. He said possessing nuclear weapons was a great sin and called for the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in West Asia. The majority of NAM members are signatories to the NPT. Iran is duty-bound to ensure that there is no violation of the treaty during its three-year tenure as the NAM chair. Irans non-compliance with the NPT will not go down well with the rest of the NAM members.

Opening the ministerial-level summit, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said his country supported the goal of NAM to abolish all nuclear weapons by 2025. There are an estimated 20,000 nuclear weapons on the planet.

Despite the best efforts of the West, the summit was attended by leaders of almost all the 120 NAM member-states, comprising more than two-thirds of the U.N. membership. Forty heads of state were present in Tehran. In a statement totally devoid of diplomacy, Netanyahu said that the presence of such a large number of leaders in Tehran was a stain on humanity. The leaders reiterated their resolve to adhere to the broad goals of the movementnon-intervention in internal affairs, non-discrimination and national liberation. These goals, formulated in 1961 by Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser, two of the five founding leaders of the movement, remain valid even today.

The summit in Iran coincided with the 59th anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. NAM is the last big anti-imperialist grouping to remain intact.

On top of the Tehran summits agenda were issues such as Irans right to peaceful nuclear energy, the situation in Syria, the Wests double standards on terrorism, and the use of force to settle disputes. International laws and sovereignty of states have been routinely trampled upon since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of a unipolar world. The decolonisation process is yet to be completed.

Before the summit, Ahmadinejad was in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to attend the annual Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting. He shared the dais with the Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, quite prominently. In order to ensure the presence of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the summit, Iran hurriedly cancelled the invitation issued to Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Ahmadinejad did not raise any contentious issue at the OIC summit despite the unilateral move to suspend Syria from the organisation in violation of its charter. Ali Akbar Salehi said that suspending Syria was a mistake and that it would only complicate the search for a solution to the conflict in that country. The 57-member OIC, founded in 1969, has the goal of promoting solidarity among members and upholding peace and security. The Iranian position that the conflict in Syria can be resolved through mediation involving the countries in the region is finding wide acceptance.

Final declaration

In his speech at the summit, Morsy reiterated his call for the removal of the Syrian government but suggested the setting up of a contact group on Syria comprising Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. This position reflects the line adopted by Russia and China at the Security Council. In the final declaration of the summit, Iran tried to incorporate a paragraph on the Syrian situation decrying outside interference. But owing to strong objections from countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there was no reference to the burning Syrian issue. All decisions in NAM are taken on the basis of consensus.

Ayatollah Khamenei had earlier criticised the role played by the Security Council in world affairs. With the U.N. Secretary-General sitting by his side, Khamenei said that the control room of the world [the Security Council] is under the control of the dictatorship of some Western countries. He pointed out the irony of the U.S. preaching non-proliferation when it possessed the largest and deadliest stockpiles of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction and is the only country guilty of their use. He went on to add that the U.S. had helped the usurping Zionist regime with nuclear weapons and created a major threat for the sensitive region.

NAM member-countries handed Iran a significant diplomatic victory by unanimously supporting Irans right to peacefully harness nuclear energy. The Tehran Declaration also acknowledged the countrys right to ownership of a full fuel cycle, which means the right to uranium enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released another report on the Iranian nuclear programme to coincide with the NAM summit. Contrary to stories in the Western media, the IAEA report shows that Iran has actually reduced the amount of 20 per cent enriched uranium required to produce weapons-grade enrichment. Iran has wanted to negotiate in good faith with the West on the issue but the U.S., prodded on by Israel, wants to use the nuclear issue to facilitate regime change in Tehran. In late 2010, Iran had offered to keep its enrichment activities below 5 per cent in return for the West providing fuel rods for its reactor. That offer was refused. Iran repeated the offer in 2011 only to be rejected once again by the West.