Iran, not the NAM, animates the Tehran summit

Dina Ezzat, Tehran, Wednesday 29 Aug 2012

Egypt President Morsi to attend the NAM summit that shall discuss issues ranging from the crisis in Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to Iran's nuclear programme

Iranian Foreign Minister
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi delivers a speech to an expert-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. (Photo: AP)

On Thursday morning Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is expected to arrive in Tehran to head the Egyptian delegation to the two-day 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Morsi, whose visit is in itself bigger news than the otherwise unimportant meeting, will head the 120-state group that was launched in the middle of last century against the backdrop of political polarisation during the Cold War.

The NAM summit will discuss issues ranging from the crisis in Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to Iran's nuclear programme.

Syria, whose membership in the equally ineffective Organisation of Islamic Summit (OIC) was suspended last month during an extraordinary head-of-state meeting in Mecca, is present in the summit.

But President Bashar Al-Assad, who is fighting for the survival of his regime after 18 months of demonstrations-turned-civil war, will not attend.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to head the Palestine's delegation to the summit following the containment of a diplomatic crisis, in which he nearly boycotted the meeting to protest a tentative invitation extended by Tehran to Ismail Hanniayh, his Hamas political rival isolated in impoverished Gaza, to also take part.

In a press conference held in Tehran on Wednesday evening, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, said that the NAM ministerial meeting, which prepared for the summit on Tuesday and Wednesday, agreed to a draft declaration that prompts this large grouping of states, with two thirds of the UN member nations on board to secure permanent membership for Palestine in the UN.

Israel and the US are particularly opposed to this move and had acted to abort it.

Both Washington and Tel Aviv have called publicly on the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to absent himself from the summit, but the head of the international organisation arrived on Wednesday afternoon in Tehran and met with Iranian President Ahmedinijad and Iranian Parliament Speaker, Ali Larijani.

With limited success, the United States and Israel have also tried to dissuade world leaders from attending the summit through running an all-out media campaign aimed at derailing and undermining the largest diplomatic gathering in Iran's contemporary history.

Israel and the US share concern over Iran's nuclear programme and the former had publicly and repeatedly threatened to bombard it.

With the expected arrival of around 100 heads of state to Tehran, the Iranian government is showing its own people that it is not losing the public campaign war that the US and Israel are launching against it.

It is also showing Israel and the US, according to one Iranian diplomat, that their threats against Iran "are basically with no serious world support."

Indeed, Iranian officials have been using the NAM summit to promote their political position and Tehran is arranging a tour for the heads of delegations to its contested power plant, which it insists is designed for peaceful purposes.

Alongside Presidents Morsi and Abbas, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are in Tehran for the summit.

Also present is the Sultan of Oman who rarely ever heads his country's delegation to any gathering, including Arab summits. The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah and President of Lebanon Michel Soulimane are also in Tehran.

Soulimane is expected to solicit the support of Iran, Syria's strongest regional ally, to appeal to the regime of Assad to refrain from moving its increasingly sectarian internal unrest to Lebanon.

Lebanon has recently suffered from Sunni-Shia confrontations in what brought back ugly memories of a devastating civil war that literally wrecked Lebanon for 15 years starting in 1975.

"There is certainly a fear that Assad is going to give himself a break by taking the war to Lebanon, and even if we are trying very hard to avert any potential of a civil war, there are no guarantees as to how things might evolve," said one Lebanese diplomat.

Lebanon is going to support the call expected to be issued out of the NAM summit against any international intervention, especially of a military nature, in Syria.

In Tehran also for the NAM summit are Bolivian President Evo Morales, Cuban President Raul Castro, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Iranian and foreign diplomats present in Tehran for the summit acknowledged the fact that some of the leaders present are among the US's closest allies.

According to one Arab diplomat, this goes to show what Iranian diplomacy is capable of doing; it is no proof of the significance of NAM itself. "There is still no new or serious ideas to upgrade this organisation; it is largely a very passive entity," the Arab diplomat said.

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