Armin Azad writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
Although it was largely ignored by the Western media, the Teheran Non-Aligned Summit concluded its work last Friday. It approved a statement supporting Iran on the nuclear issue; opposing unilateral economic sanctions (i.e. US-led sanctions against Iran), and; condemning any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities (an indirect reference to Israeli threats of attack against Iranian nuclear facilities). Iran claims that it has scored a big diplomatic victory by securing the support of all NAM members on these issues. Against the background of the strong campaign carried out by the US and Israel prior to the conference to discourage Non-Aligned leaders as well UN Secretary General from participating in the meeting, it arguably seems so – at least to informed Iran observers!
To the delight of the Iranian authorities, all 120 Members of the Movement sent representatives to the conference and about 50 of them at the head of states level. From the perspective of the Iranian authorities, the conference and its final statement provided a convincing argument to counter the claims by U.S and the West that in their accusations against Iran over nuclear and other issues they speak for international community.
No matter how the Iranian authorities present the results of this conference, the wide participation in the meeting could also be indicative of another point: many countries feel unhappy about being pressured by the U.S to take positions and/or act in ways in which they are not comfortable with or do not serve their interests. In this sense, their positions in the meeting might be interpreted as a sign of protest to the US and Israeli policies – rather than enthusiastic support for Iran.
However, the strong support of Non-Aligned movement for Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy and particularly the right to have a full nuclear fuel cycle (uranium enrichment) may have the immediate impact of strengthening Iranian hand in its show down with the West over its nuclear issue. It may also make it more difficult for Israel to push forward its campaign to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
These points about the Teheran meeting and its impact for Iran might equally be considered:
- For the next three years, Iran will be the chairman of the NAM. It will undoubtedly seek to use this opportunity to influence the agenda along with the outcome of meetings to better align with its interests. Indeed, the chairmanship of NAM arguably facilitates Iranian efforts to mobilize the support of NAM members in its show- down with the west on nuclear and other contested issues.
- In parallel to the meetings that were recently held in Teheran, Iran hosted bilateral meetings with leaders and high-ranking officials from many countries to discuss bilateral economic issues. Given the economic difficulties that Iran is now facing as a result of US-led sanctions, it spared no efforts in exploring the potentials for strengthening its economic ties with those countries and finding ways to circumvent the sanctions. The Iranian oil minister was especially active in this regard, holding separate talks with many ministers participating in the conference
- The participation of Muhammad Morsi, the Egyptian president in the conference was an important development in itself. Although the western media mainly focused on the parts of Morsi’s statement criticizing the Syrian regime and highlighted the differences between Egypt and Iran on this issue, reading the whole text of Morsi’s speech indicates that on most other issues, the two countries had more or less similar positions. One should not, therefore, read too much into their differences over Syria. Morsi is the first Egyptian president to visit Iran since 1979 Islamic revolution. This visit took place despite the known sensitivities of both the U.S. and Israeli governments.
- The UN Secretary General’s visit which took place against direct opposition of U.S. and Israel got a lot of media attention inside and outside Iran. Before his visit, the Iranian opposition had requested Mr. Moon to ask the Iranian authorities to permit him to visit imprisoned Green Movement leaders, Mr. Musavi and Mr. Karubi. This visit did not take place and it is not known if Mr. Moon had ever asked for such a meeting. According to Mr. Moon, however, he raised the question of respect for human right in his talks with the Iranian authorities.
- While the conference was taking place in Teheran very tight and strong security measures were enforced in the city. The hard line Guardians of the Islamic Revolution were in charge of security. All the government offices were closed for 5 days and residents of Teheran were encouraged to use this week-long holiday for traveling outside the city and to other parts of the country. Many people used this opportunity for traveling and the city was calm during the conference.
Armin Azad is a former Iranian diplomat now living in Europe.