Nonaligned countries back Iran's nuclear program

Iranian FM says high-level conference's show of support acts to "remove this notion that the international community opposes the nuclear activities of Iran."

ahmadinejad NAM 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad NAM 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
More than 100 nonaligned nations backed Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear power on Wednesday, an endorsement sought by Teheran in its standoff with the UN Security Council over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. Senior Iranian officials depicted the support, coming from a high-level conference of the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement, as deflating claims by the US and its allies that most of the international community wanted Iran to stop enrichment. As did similar NAM declarations in the past, the conference's backing acts to "remove this notion that the international community opposes the nuclear activities of Iran," said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The NAM is made up of such diverse members as communist Cuba, Jamaica and India, and depicts itself as bloc-free. But most members share a critical view of the US and the developed world in general. Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's top representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the endorsement from the 115 countries present at the Teheran conference sends a "strong positive signal that the only way is negotiation and dialogue" over the nuclear standoff. "Get the message," he said, in blunt comments indirectly aimed at the US and its Western allies, the nations at the forefront of accusations that Teheran wants to build nuclear arms. "Come to the negotiating table." Support was expressed in a three-page declaration in Farsi, translated by The Associated Press, that drew heavily in phrasing on similar past NAM declarations. It said the conference "reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right of all states, to develop research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes." The delegates "furthermore reaffirmed that choices and decisions of states like the Islamic Republic of Iran in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and its fuel cycle policies must be respected," said the document. Teheran insists it has a right to the technology to make reactor fuel. But because of fears that it wants to master enrichment for its other use - creating the fissile core of warheads - the Security Council has slapped three sets of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. And a fourth set looms. Only days remain until the expiration of an informal two-week deadline set July 19 by six world powers for Teheran to show it is willing to stop expanding its enrichment program, at least temporarily, in exchange for their commitment to stop seeking new UN sanctions. The offer is meant to create space for the start of in-depth negotiations that the six hope will end in Iran agreeing to permanently mothball its enrichment program in exchange for a package of economic and political concessions. But there was no sign Wednesday that Teheran was willing to bend. First, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said that backing down on enrichment in the face of "arrogant powers" would only benefit those six nations - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. That message was enforced later both by Mottaki, the foreign minister and Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA representative. The concept of a deadline "was not really understandable to us," Mottaki told reporters after the close of a conference of the Nonaligned Movement, most of them represented at foreign minister or deputy foreign minister level. In even blunter terms, Soltanieh said: "We are not giving up our nuclear activities, including enrichment," adding that the six powers "have to understand this message." A separate closing document took the International Criminal Court's prosecutor to task for indicting Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir by an international prosecutor on charges of genocide in Darfur. It also harshly criticized Israel on a broad range of issues, including its policies in the Palestinian territories and its occupation of the Golan Heights. And it urged NAM members to oppose unwarranted Security Council influence at the expense of other UN organs. Iran assumed the chairmanship of the conference Tuesday with a keynote speech by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that was tailored to reflect the struggle that some NAM members see themselves in against the world's rich and powerful countries. "The big powers are going down," Ahmadinejad told the meeting, in comments simultaneously translated into English. "They have come to the end of their power, and the world is on the verge of entering a new, promising era." Iran regularly counts on NAM countries to blunt pressure from the US and its allies for harsh UN sanctions and other penalties because of its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment in various forums, such as the 35-nation board meetings of the IAEA and nonproliferation conferences.