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Iran Hosts Non-aligned Summit Despite Sanctions


Beginning on Sunday, representatives of nearly 120 nations will convene in Iran's capital for the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. The conference provides a break for Iran from international isolation over its disputed nuclear program and a chance for the movement to get some unaccustomed attention.

Tehran soon will transform into a hub for more than a hundred diplomats, including several heads of state. They range from newly-elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court.

The summit comes as the United Nations and the West have increased sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program - one that Israel and Western nations believe Iran is using to develop atomic weapons. Iran said its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

Jamal Abdi, of the National Iranian American Council, said Iran's hosting of the summit was decided long before the international push to further isolate Iran.

"This was a stroke of luck for Iran. This sort of fell into their laps and they're taking full advantage of it," said Abdi.

Abdi said Tehran will try to use the time in the spotlight to show Iran is not as isolated as the U. S. and the international community contend.

"You can't completely isolate a country, and the effect of these sanctions and the isolation is being oversold by the United States and the international community," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is invited. The U.S. and Israel say that as the leader of the organization imposing sanctions, he should not go, but his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said Ban plans to attend.

"The secretary-general looks forward to the summit as an opportunity to work with the participating heads of state and government, including the host country, toward solutions on issues that are central to the global agenda," said Nesirky.

David Tafuri, a partner at the Washington-based law firm Patton Boggs, said Ban's appearance is a critical diplomatic overture.

Tafuri said, "Engagement has to continue, and the U.S. isn't really engaged right now on a diplomatic level, so it's okay, and, in fact, important for the U.N. to continue to engage with Iran."

Tafuri said issues such as Iran's continued support of the Syrian government - and its crackdown on the opposition - will not go away.

"Iran is in a very, very difficult place. They're losing friends," said Tafuri. "Syria was one of their best friends in the world and they're probably going to lose Syria as their close ally because Assad is probably going to be forced out at some point. So Iran is becoming more and more isolated."

If not for the summit, many diplomats and leaders would not visit the Iranian capital, and analysts say Iran's respite from its troubles likely will be short-lived.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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