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August 31, 2012

Iranian Hopes Dashed at Non-Aligned Summit

by Al Pessin

LONDON — Iran hosted a summit of the 120-nation Non-Aligned movement this week.  But the conference did not go exactly as Iranian leaders had hoped, with several delegates openly opposing some of Iran’s most controversial policies. 

It was an extremely diverse group that met in Tehran, representing more than half the world’s countries.  Among the 120 delegation chiefs were more than two dozen heads of state.

But with such a broad-based group, it was likely to be difficult to reach agreement on anything but the most general policy pronouncements.  

That would not accommodate Iran’s hope to garner support for its nuclear program, its strident stance against the West and Israel, and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Egypt’s newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi provided the best example of that with a sharp attack on President Assad, saying he leads an “oppressive” regime that has lost its legitimacy.  The Syrian delegation walked out in protest.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also disappointed the Iranians, who had urged him to attend the conference.  He told Iranian leaders to take “concrete” steps and fully comply with Security Council resolutions demanding inspections of its nuclear facilities.

And in the middle of the summit, the U.N.’s Atomic Energy Agency issued a report saying Iran has more than doubled the capacity of its uranium enrichment program at a secure underground site.

International experts say the facility brings large quantities of uranium dangerously close to the purity level needed to produce a nuclear weapon.  But Iran says the material will be used for medical research.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed that point at the conference, saying his country has never sought to build a nuclear weapon, but will never give up its right to have a peaceful nuclear program.

The international community has rejected such assurances in the past, without inspections and an agreement not to enrich uranium beyond a medium level of purity.  

Under Non-Aligned Movement rules, Iran will now lead the organization for three years.

But Iran expert Mark Fitzpatrick, of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, says it will not likely be any more successful in convincing members to support its nuclear program.

“Most of those countries think Iran should cooperate with the IAEA.  And most of those countries are not going to change their position that they took at the UN Security Council or at the IAEA Board meeting when they voted against Iran.  And it’s not going to change their adherence to UN sanctions or cooperation with the U.S. sanctions,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick says the diverse countries of the Non-Aligned Movement have their own interests and policies, and do not have much reason to please Iran or to support a government he says many find “not so tasteful.”