All roads lead to Tehran: 16th Non-Aligned Movement summit ends Iran's isolation

by Abdus-Sattar Ghazali (source: OEN)
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

After staying virtually dormant for years, the 51 year-old Non-Aligned Movement of 120 countries took a center stage in Tehran last week which perhaps put on hold Iran's prolonged diplomatic isolation.

The summit adopted a document that condemned unilateral sanctions, backed the right of Iran and other states to peaceful nuclear energy, and supported the creation of a Palestinian state. The document also advocated nuclear disarmament, human rights free from political agendas and opposition to racism and "Islamophobia."

Venezuela was selected the host for the 17th NAM Summit in 2015, while two countries, namely Azerbaijan Republic and Fiji, were accepted as the new members of the movement.

The document released at the end of the summit reiterated NAM's adherence to its original five principles; condemned the increasing tendency of certain states to resort to unilateralism and to unilaterally imposed measures, and the non-fulfillment of commitments and obligations assumed under relevant international legally binding instruments, especially on weapons of mass destruction, and conventional weapons; called for total nuclear disarmament but supported the right of states to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in 1961 on the five principles of mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

Sukarno of Indonesia, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Nakruma of Ghana and Tito of Yugoslavia were its founding fathers. It emerged as a group of developing countries that wanted to keep away from the superpower rivalries. As the name suggests, it is a movement and not an organization. It has no permanent secretariat.

As the world moved from bipolarity to unipolarity around 1990, this organization lost much of its sheen, but has not withered away. The reason is that a number of causes that it espouses are still relevant. It represents the voice of the developing world for an equitable international economic system.

The Tehran NAM Summit assumed extra importance due to its timing and venue. It came at a time when Iran's detractors thought it had been isolated.

Western diplomats have sought to downplay the importance of the summit and the start of Iran's three-year presidency of NAM. Western media attempted to ignore, downplay, or demean the NAM summit. A Washington Post editorial called it an anti-American "festival of resistance," a "useless recreational club," and a "bacchanal of nonsense."

High level participation in the summit

But 80 countries participated in the summit at the level of minister or higher with 50 sending their heads of government. According to Tehran Times, the participating dignitaries included:

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, North Korea's parliamentary chairman Kim Yong-nam, Cuba's Raul Castro, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisyan, Lebanese President Michel Sulaiman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Despite tensions between the two countries, Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (King Abdullah's son) attended. He's currently acting deputy foreign minister. Despite row over violent crack down of anti-government demonstrations in his country, Bahrain's foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa also participated in the Tehran summit.

The final result of the Nonaligned Movement's meeting, the biggest international gathering in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, amounted to the strongest expression of support for Iran's nuclear energy rights in its showdown with the West. The Tehran Declaration document not only emphasizes Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy but acknowledges the right to ownership of a full nuclear fuel cycle, which means uranium enrichment -- a matter of deep dispute. The unanimous backing of the final document undercut the American argument that Iran was an isolated outlier nation.

However, the current violence in Syria proved elusive for the NAM summit and was ignored in the final document. Iran's delegation failed to secure some kind of support for the Syrian government, diplomats said, as the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his aides were criticizing foreign backing of the Syrian insurgency.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who handed over the NAM chair to Iran in the first visit by an Egyptian head of state since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, also embarrassed Tehran by publicly siding with the Syrian opposition. Morsi said in his speech that the bloodshed in Syria would only end if there were "effective interference" from outside, a remark that has raised ire of the Syrian delegation, prompting them to angrily walk out of the conference room while Morsi was giving the speech. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Morsi's speech incites more bloodshed in Syria.

Iran signs economic agreements with 30 NAM states

Tellingly, on the sidelines of the ongoing 16th NAM Summit Iran signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on economic and customs cooperation with 30 member states of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Director General of Iranian Customs International Cooperation Department Mohammad-Hossein Baghenayat announced that a number of Central Asian states as well as African and Latin American countries were among countries which singed the agreements with Iran.

Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Algeria, Kenya, Indonesia, India, Cuba and Ecuador were among countries that inked documents with Iran on bilateral cooperation.

Taking Nonalignment Seriously

Rob Rakove, a lecturer in International Relations at Stanford University, argues that America shouldn't be so quick to dismiss it because Iran hosted the latest NAM summit.

Writing in the Foreign Policy magazine -- under the title: Taking Nonalignment Seriously -- Rakove says that the Nonalignment is not a passing fancy and its summits are not trivial events. "Both Eisenhower and Kennedy, faced with conferences in Bandung and Belgrade, concluded that they could not oppose these meetings without incurring the wrath of their attendees. Broad U.S. opposition to the summit in Tehran risks the charge of attacking nonalignment itself."

Rakove went on to say that Americans must remember that this is a diverse movement. "While it shares some common principles, it brings together a remarkably wide range of states. Understanding the NAM requires not characterizing it by the most hostile states in its midst, or treating it as a kind of grand "Axis of Evil," he said adding:

"If it has represented anything across the last 50 years, it has expressed the desire of the world's newer states to retain their political independence in an often threatening world. This should be a readily comprehensible motivation to Americans who remember the words of George Washington's farewell address. Nonalignment, in sum, cannot be wished away, and the Obama administration will repeat the errors of the past if it strays down that road again."

In terms of membership, the non-aligned bloc is second only to the UN General Assembly and includes emerging economic powerhouses such as India, while giants China and Brazil hold observer status in the group. The NAM represents nearly two-thirds of the UN members and about 55 percent of the world population. It currently consists of 120 members, 17 observer countries and 10 observer organizations. China became a NAM observer in September 1992.


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