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Non-Aligned Summit Convenes in Malaysia

Against a backdrop of war looming in the Middle East, senior officials and ministers from 114 nations grouped under the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM, are in Malaysia ahead of a two-day summit. While Iraq is expected to dominate discussions, North Korea Thursday took center-stage with a controversial resolution.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who will host the Non-Aligned summit next week, is expected to push leaders to oppose any military action to disarm Iraq. He has been publicly warning that a war against Iraq will only increase resentment among Muslims, creating a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists.

But Iraq was temporarily overshadowed Thursday, when North Korea submitted a draft proposal to condemn the United States for the current dispute over Pyonyang's nuclear programs. The resolution calls on the United States to give up its hostile policies toward North Korea. North Korea accuses the United States of using the nuclear question as a pretext to invade the country.

The international community has been pressing North Korea to immediately suspend all nuclear activities, including its suspected weapons program. The United States has stressed it wants a peaceful solution. But after months of North Korea rejecting diplomatic efforts, Washington is now saying that all options are being considered.

Ministers will take up the issue of weapons of mass destruction Saturday. Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said he believes there should be a total ban on nuclear weapons and that NAM should try to persuade North Korea to drop it's nuclear ambitions.

The Non-Aligned Movement was formed during the Cold War as an alternative to the western and eastern power blocks. But most members are poor nations and carry little political or military clout, except for India and Pakistan.

Krip Sridharan, of the National University of Singapore, says NAM summits however focus attention on the concerns of these countries. "The Non-Aligned Movement summits haven't been really been one of those shakers and movers of the world," she said. "But then it is important for the third world countries to actually have forum and then to be able to present their views which will get a wider publicity than they will be able to do otherwise."

Chandra Muzzaffar of the Kuala Lumpur-based policy group, the International Movement for a Just World, argues NAM does have the ability to influence world opinion. "You have 114 countries taking a common stand on Iraq," said Chandra Muzzaffar. "That must have some impact because these countries represent a huge segment of the human family, so I suppose the Iraq issue would to some extent I think galvanize the movement. But if the movement is to sustain the momentum, it has to go beyond Iraq."

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir acknowledges that powerful countries seldom listen to NAM, but he says they may be forced to as millions of people around the world are staging protests against a possible war against Iraq.