NAM summit turnaround

Iran has presented the summit as evidence of the failure of Western countries to impose sanctions.

Leaders at Non-Aligned Movement NAM in Tehran 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Leaders at Non-Aligned Movement NAM in Tehran 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Non-Aligned Movement summit held this week in Tehran has been touted by the Islamic Republic as an opportunity to advance Iranian interests.
Indeed, Iran has presented the summit – being attended by representatives from 120 countries – as evidence of the failure of the US and other Western countries to impose sanctions and to isolate it from the rest of the world.
Chief mullah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei emphasized this in a speech, as did Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. “We want unilateral [sic] sanctions refuted by the participants,” Salehi told English-language press on the sidelines of the summit, refusing to acknowledge that steps taken against the Islamic Republic were a collective effort of Western states, not “unilateral.”
But instead of serving as a platform for Iran to improve its international status, the summit has revealed dissent, even among states supposedly united by their shared dislike of “Western hegemony,” “neocolonialism” and “neo-liberal globalism.”
It has also shown how vulnerable the Shi’ite Islamic Republic can be vis-à-vis Sunni interests.
Iran’s role in Syria – providing essential arms, manpower and know-how to Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime – has set it on a collision course with the interests of Egypt, the NAM’s most prominent member and outgoing chairman. Complete cohesion and unit of purpose have always eluded the NAM.
But Thursday’s session was a particularly vivid example of how the NAM summit has not only failed to advance Iranian interests, it has become a stage for Iran bashing.
President Mohamed Morsy, who was making the first visit of an Egyptian head-of-state to Iran in more than three decades, called to intervene against what he called the “oppressive” Syrian regime. The Syrian delegation walked out in protest. The mullahs were put on the defensive.
This was a blow to Tehran on two levels: First, it was a direct attack on the Islamic Republic, a prominent supporter of the Assad regime. Morsy all but said outright that Sunni Arab nations should join forces to depose Assad. And since Assad is being supported by Iran, Morsy’s statements were tantamount to a declaration of war against Iran. It was abundantly clear that at least with regard to Syria, Sunni interests in the region deviate sharply from those of Iran’s Shi’ite rulers.
This was a bold move on Morsy’s part and it transformed the NAM summit into a forum for lambasting, not lauding, Iran.
In another, far less significant, setback for Iran, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – who should never have been at the summit in the first place – rescued a modicum of credibility by standing up, albeit half-heartedly, to iniquitous statements made by Khamenei.
“I strongly reject any threat by any [UN] member state to destroy another, or outrageous comments to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust,” Ban said without mentioning Khamenei or Iran.
“Claiming another UN member state does not have the right to exist or describ[ing] it in racist terms is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all promised to uphold,” the UN chief added.
But if Ban truly had a moral backbone, he would call for Iran to be removed from the UN altogether. How can he suffice with mere statements at a time when one UN member calls for the destruction of another? While it is disheartening to see representatives of 120 nations and the UN secretary-general grant recognition and honor to Iran by attending the summit, it must be remembered that the NAM is gradually losing what little importance and relevance it had. Attempts to convince Russian President Vladmir Putin and a high-ranking statesman from Turkey to attend failed miserably.
Thankfully, Tehran’s attempt to exploit the summit to advance its interests has backfired. Morsy openly attacked Iranian involvement in Syria. Even Ban took Iran to task. Too bad the secretary-general did not take one step further and remove Iran from the United Nations altogether.