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Iran Hosts Non-Aligned Summit Despite Sanctions

  • Al Pessin

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (June 21, 2012 file photo)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (June 21, 2012 file photo)

Representatives of nearly 120 nations, including dozens of heads-of-state, are to convene in Tehran next week for the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The conference provides a break for Iran from its international isolation and a chance for the movement to get some unaccustomed attention, analysts say.

The Non-Aligned Movement is a Cold War organization that was supposed to provide a forum for countries that were not allied with either the United States or the Soviet Union.

But from its origins in the 1950s there were members that did not fit that description, and since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 the group has struggled for both identity and clout.

Now, its system of rotating leadership has put it back in the spotlight, as its summit is set for Tehran at a time of strong United Nations sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program.

Contrasting policies

Some leaders will attend the summit even as they help enforce the sanctions that are crippling Iran's economy.

The contrast is typical of the movement. International Law professor Hennie Strydom at the University of Johannesburg said with so many countries involved, there is often relatively little they can agree on.

"They stay together on issues of common concern, like economic development issues, their sort of relatively weak position in international affairs, and in forming some kind of a bloc against Western influences," Strydom said.

"So, it's not a very strong basis to stand on, but nevertheless those issues have kept them together over these years," he said.

Strydom said many of the Non-Aligned Movement countries are somewhat sympathetic to Iran's right to develop its nuclear program, and to its tough stance against the West. He said Iran may try to use this meeting to generate support for easing the sanctions, but he is not convinced it will succeed.

"It wants to use this opportunity to drum up support for Iran's position in the world," Strydom said. "It could potentially be the result of this meeting that some states would say that the Security Council would have to reconsider it. At this point in time, it's a bit uncertain how strong that lobby will be."

U.S. critical

The U.S. State Department says Iran will try to manipulate the Non-Aligned Movement at the summit, and try to divert attention from its defiance of several U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The council imposed the economic sanctions because it believes Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies. The council wants Iran to stop enriching uranium to near weapons grade, and to allow international inspections.

Complicating Iran's effort to break the sanctions will be the presence of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Iran wants him there to raise the stature of the meeting, but many countries, including the United States and Israel, said that as the leader of the organization imposing the sanctions, he should not go.

Still, Iran Program co-director Dana Allin at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies said Ban's presence could keep the focus on the sanctions and the reason for them.

"I have no doubt that he's going to speak very bluntly to the Iranian leadership about the fact that they stand in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions," Allin said.

Iran watched

So as the leaders gather in Tehran, analysts will be watching to see whether the meeting improves Iran's position in global diplomacy.

But Allin said even if it does, the respite from Iran's troubles will likely be short lived.

"They are holding the meeting and people are showing up," Allin said. "So clearly the isolation isn't total. It would be silly to pretend that it doesn't mean anything.

"My argument has just been that we shouldn't go the other way and exaggerate its significance because Iran's rather dire situation is going to be pretty much the same after this meeting ends as it was before," Allin said.

The summit will convene with a speech by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who usually only meets with Islamic officials.

That would appear to underline the importance of this meeting to Iran at a time when, if not for the summit, most world leaders would not visit the country, or even trade with it.
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