Leaders, officials arrive ahead of Tehran summit

AFP , Wednesday 29 Aug 2012

Nearly a dozen of 36 heads of state arrive to Tehran ahead of a two-day NAM summit, coinciding with an international crisis between the West and Iran on the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear activities

An unidentified woman speaks to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2nd L) during his meeting with Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani (R), ahead of the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, August, 29, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

The leaders of India, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority flew to Tehran on Wednesday ahead of a two-day Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit that Iran is boasting shows its international heft.

Nearly a dozen of the 36 heads of state or government Iran says are confirmed to attend the Thursday-Friday event have arrived, according to state media.

The two attendees Iran has most publicised are UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who also arrived on Wednesday as an invited observer to the summit, and new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who will hand over the rotating NAM presidency to Iran during his hours-long visit on Thursday.

The United States and Israel have criticised Ban's presence in Iran.

Morsi's appearance will be the first by an Egyptian president since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979 -- the year that Cairo signed a peace accord with Israel.

The NAM is a 120-member organisation founded in the height of the Cold War as a grouping supposedly independent of the rival American and Soviet blocs.

Although it has struggled to stay relevant in the decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Iran is keen to portray it as a diplomatic counterweight to US influence and in its showdown with the UN Security Council over its disputed nuclear programme.

Leaders already reported to have arrived in Tehran include Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi, Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Others are Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba, Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Swazi Prime Minister Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini and Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was seen arriving, getting past a dispute that saw Iran exclude his Gaza rival, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, after he threatened to boycott the summit.

North Korea's ceremonial head of state, parliamentary leader Kim Yong-Nam, was also in the Iranian capital, representing his country's top leader Kim Jong-Un.

Others that Iran says are confirmed to yet show up for the summit include Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

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