Flags of the Non-Aligned Movement members 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
DUBAI - Iran hopes to earn diplomatic kudos over the coming week as it hosts a summit of 120 developing nations, but any jubilation could turn sour over starkly different views on the bloody conflict in Syria.
The Islamic Republic's three-year tenure of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which starts on Sunday, is a chance for Tehran to elevate its international standing as the United States seeks to cripple its economy and isolate it diplomatically over its nuclear program.
Although many analysts say the movement, set up in 1961 to counter big power domination of international relations, has waned since the end of the Cold War, the diplomatic spotlight will give Tehran an opportunity to show Washington has failed to cut it off from the rest of the world.
"Hosting the conference is Iran's way of breaking the diplomatic embargo," said Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Around 35 heads of state or government are attending from the movement's wide membership that stretches from developing giants such as India to tiny Caribbean islands.
The guest list includes new Egyptian President Mohammad Morsy - the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran since its Islamic revolution in 1979.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also attend, resisting diplomatic pressure to boycott the event After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his view that Israel is a "cancerous tumour" that had no place in the Middle East.
Both are expected to attend an address by Iran's most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"The Iranians love a stage. If they handle it diplomatically they will at least bask in the reflected glory," said Ali Ansari of St Andrews University in Scotland.
As host, Iran will prepare of the first draft of the meeting's final declaration, likely to include statements affirming its right to peaceful nuclear technology, condemnation of Israeli military threats against it and censure of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.
"Hosting and chairing NAM has a lot of benefits. It's the basis for continuing political influence over a significant group of developing nations for three years," said Professor Peter Willetts of City University.
"The host always has key influence over the starting point for discussions."
Where that may differ is on the issue of Syria, Iran's chief ally in the region in its "axis of resistance" against Israel, Sunni Arab states and their Western backers.