Aug 30, 2012

Iran Hosts 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit

Chuck MisslerBy Dr. Chuck Missler
Koinonia House

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Iran is the proud host of the 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit on Thursday and Friday, a gathering of 120 countries that claim to not be aligned with any of the major world powers. Although the Cold War is over and NAM therefore holds less significance, the summit offers Iran the opportunity to flaunt its importance on the world stage and to thumb its nose at the West.

A five-day-long holiday is being held in Tehran at the end of this week, and 110,000 police are being put to work to provide security for the summit and the multitude of high-ranking international visitors to the city. Iran will take charge of the presidency of NAM for the next three years, and the summit offers Iran a chance to overcome its status as a marginalized rogue nation.

While western leaders regard the NAM summit as an anachronism, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the summit, as will Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi. Mursi's attendance is significant; no Egyptian leader has visited Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Fifty countries are sending their heads of government rather than just their political deputies, making the meeting no small affair.

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei

Syria and Iran

There may no longer be an official Cold War, but those attending the summit still have mutual concerns. There will be discussions about the crisis in Syria as well as Iran's nuclear program. Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem will attend the summit and, according to Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian Parliament's foreign policy committee, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, "[H]e would welcome efforts Iran can make to solve Syria's problems" urging countries that support the Syrian rebels to "exert pressure on them to stop the bloodshed and violence."

Syria's brutal quagmire offers Iran a means of staying in the game. The world has been watching the ongoing violence in Syria, and Iran will be consulting with various countries on a plan to bring, maybe not peace, but a resolution to the fighting. While the West is concerned with the treatment of civilians and unarmed villagers in the Syrian crisis, Iran and Syria will seek to maintain the power of the current regime. It was only in 2009 that Iranians rose up after the questionable re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iran has clearly demonstrated that human rights and the fate of civilians are hardly the country's first concern.

Iran is especially keen on shouldering into greater significance on the world stage and keeping Western nations out of things. Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran, said "Teheran is likely to echo Cairo's proposal of establishing a contact group mainly involving Islamic countries to ease the Syrian tension."

Shedding Sanctions

Iran also wants to use the summit to gather support against the sanctions that have crippled its economy. Iran has refused to halt its nuclear activities, and the West has remained concerned that Iran is using its nuclear energy program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons. The current government in Tehran will work to collect friends willing to speak out against—or find ways to circumvent—the economic sanctions, so that Iran can continue its nuclear program without starving its people and potentially losing political control.

"The non-aligned (movement) must seriously oppose ... unilateral economic sanctions which have been enacted by certain countries against non-aligned countries," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the summit's opening session.

Some countries, like India, are major exporters of Iranian oil, and while India agreed in May to cut back on its oil imports from Iran by 11 percent, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is attending the summit with the intention of reviewing bilateral relations with Iran.

Opposition Rising

In the end, the summit offers a boost, but Iran may not get as much backing as it hopes. The Sunni majority in Egypt still regards the Shiites in Iran with coolness. The world recognizes the harsh measures that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used against his people, and while many regimes in the Middle East have maintained their power by cruel means, Iran's willingness to protect the Assad government may not earn much favor with more judicious countries.

An Iranian opposition group has asked Ban Ki-moon to visit opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi currently under house arrest in Iran. Conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami warned the opposition not to take advantage of the summit to further their cause. The group is forced to remain outside the country for fear of reprisals from the Iranian government.

There were also obvious divisions between Middle East neighbors when Tehran denied that the leader of Hamas had been invited to the summit. While Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, was openly invited, Tehran made it clear to all concerned that Hamas was not welcome.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also made it clear that NAM diplomats will not be touring the Parchin military base or any other nuclear installations during the summit. The Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh on Monday made a statement that sounded as though NAM visitors might visit the base, a site potentially used for making trials of nuclear-related explosions. "We have no specific plans for a visit to Iran's nuclear installations by foreign guests participating in the summit of NAM member countries," state news agency IRNA quoted Mehmanparast.

A Murderous Regime

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the summit a "stain on humanity." Netanyahu accused those attending the summit of "saluting a regime that not only denies the Holocaust but pledges to annihilate the Jewish state, brutalizes its own people, colludes in the murder of thousands of innocent Syrians and leads millions in chanting 'Death to America, death to Israel'."

In the end, the West will keep a firm eye on Iran and strive to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. With a leadership that believes the whole world should be forced into submission to Allah, all countries should be concerned about letting Iran obtain the nuclear power necessary to push the issue.