Tehran Hosts the Non-Aligned Movement

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Next week, the member states of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) will meet in Tehran. NAM is an international organization created during the height of the Cold War to provide a third cooperative affiliation besides the United States and the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the organization has undergone an identity crisis and many have questioned its usefulness in an increasingly multipolar world.

For many observers in the region, the meeting could not have come at a more opportune time for Iran. Faced with an ever tightening sanctions regime (See our latest Foreign Reports Bulletin, Iran’s Troubled Economy), Tehran has been looking for ways to push back against international isolation. As some in the media point out, the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is seen as a win by the Iranians. What has drawn the attention of both political observers as well as government officials, however, is the confirmation that Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, will participate in the meetings as well.

In Iran, the main news outlet Press TV posted a statement by the spokesman for Majlis Judicial and Legal Committee Mohammad-Ali Esfanani who “said the main reason behind the establishment of NAM was to defend the people’s rights against unacceptable political structures and that duty is now even heavier as the global situation has become more hectic than the past….The lawmaker stated that if NAM members failed to fulfill their duties, the Arrogant powers would enter every field in the future and interfere in internal affairs of governments and nations in order to change the governments in line with their own goals.”

Behzad Khoshandam, writing for Iran Review, lists the political benefits that Iran reaps as it hosts dozens of the world’s leaders: “By taking advantage of the movement’s capacities in the next three years, Iran will be able to take important steps toward détente with major regional and international powers, formulate indigenized and regional solutions for its members, increase Tehran’s diplomatic might and reduce the impact of international sanctions against Iran by taking advantage of south-south cooperation potentials and the ‘look to the east’ attitude of Iran’s foreign policy.”

The timing and the importance of the event is also the subject of Pakistan Observer’s Hameed Shaheed who reports on the UN Secretary General’s visit to Tehran: “A crucial diplomatic development at the international level has diluted the Western bid to isolate Iran, as the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit Iran at the end of the month to take part in the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.… The NAM summit is being [attended] by 120 world leaders…. An event of that highest profile of global impact will have direct bearing on Iran’s treatment by the West at this critical time. Over recent days, there have been media reports of calls from Israel and the U.S., for Mr. Ban to boycott the meeting.”

The Egyptian president’s visit, also considered a major diplomatic coup, has attracted worldwide attention. In its editorial, acknowledging the importance of the visit, the Tehran Times notes: “The announcement that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi will attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran has raised eyebrows in Israel and the West. It has been hard for Israel and the West to digest the fact that that the Egyptian leader will be making a historic trip to Tehran, which could herald a new chapter in relations between Iran and Egypt after over three decades of icy ties between the two countries….now, that relationship can be set aright after over three decades when the two countries did not even exchange ambassadors, largely due to the machinations of the Western powers.”

The motivation behind Morsi’s visit to Iran is the subject of the Saudi Gazette editorial: “If, as some commentators believe, Morsi is seeking to restore relations with Iran ruptured in 1980, when President Anwar Sadat recognized Israel, then it must be hoped that his mission will be successful, though it must be approached with caution….if resuming a dialog with Tehran is only part of Morsi’s intention, then the other part is surely to reassert Egypt’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement, of which the Kingdom is also one of the 120 member countries….Morsi is almost certainly of putting down a marker that Egypt wishes to reassert its role in global politics and sees the NAM as a key part in this new policy.”

In India, which together with Nasser’s Egypt and Tito’s Yugoslavia was one of the founding members of the NAM, Srinath Raghavan, in op-ed for the daily Asian Age, argues: “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impending visit to Iran comes at a critical juncture in West Asian politics…. New Delhi believes that Iran should fulfill its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by refraining from developing nuclear weapons. What exactly is India’s concern about a nuclear-armed Iran? The official line is that another nuclear power in the neighborhood will not be in India’s interest….So far, India has managed its balancing act reasonably well. But like any tightrope walker it has to move forward to avoid falling down.”

Finally, some observers in the region have expressed skepticism about Iran’s fitness for hosting the meeting and leading the movement over the next three years. Al Hayat’s Elias Harfoush makes his disapproval clear by pointing out that “there is a deep sea separating the principles and politics that constitute the basis of the non-aligned movement and those principles and politics that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been fighting for ever since it was first established. The founders of that movement wanted it to abstain from interfering in other countries’ affairs; to adopt the politics of complete neutrality in international conflicts; and to abstain from taking any hostile and one-sided steps against any of its members or any other country. Iran’s politics are as far as can be from the above.”

Echoing Harfoush’s skepticism, in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Emad El Din Adeeb writes: “The Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran will not be the global gathering of an international movement at a critical juncture; rather it will be nothing more than an Iranian attempt to break from the impasse of international pressure….Will the visiting countries…allow the host country to turn the conference into a public relations campaign to bring Iran out of the impasse of its political and economic blockade? This is a matter for the Iranian diplomats to consider whilst they outline the desired goals of this summit, which may end up as an expensive ‘photo opportunity’ for the Iranian treasury without any political dividend.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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