August 27, 2012
Iran has jockeyed to regain international legitimacy and political leverage while hosting some 100 delegations at the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran. The Islamic Republic won a diplomatic tug-of-war with the United States when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon agreed to attend over Washington’s repeated objections.
Heads of state from some 50 countries showed up for the Aug 26-31 meeting, according to the Foreign Ministry. Among them was new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the first visit by an Egyptian head of state since the 1979 revolution. Morsi is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But Iran did not invite Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement it has long supported. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority led the delegation, even though Hamas effectively rules Gaza.
Senior political and military Iran officials have capitalized on the summit to boost Tehran’s image—at American expense. “Electing Iran as leader of the Nonaligned Movement shows that a global resistance against America and the Zionists has taken shape,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, who commands the paramilitary Basij, told the Fars news agency. “America better give up, as this is yet another sign of its collapse.”
The State Department charged that Iran was abusing its position as host to press its own agenda. “We had concerns that Iran is going to manipulate this opportunity and the attendees, to try to deflect attention from its own failings…This is a country that is in violation of all kinds of U.N. obligations and has been a destabilizing force,” Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters at a State Department briefing on Aug. 22.
“We hope that those who have chosen to attend, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will make very strong points to those Iranians that they meet about their international obligations, about the opportunity that we’ve provided through the P-5+1 talks for them to begin to come clean on their nuclear program and to solve this particular issue diplomatically, and about all the other expectations that we all have of them.”
But Iran instead used the summit to portray itself as the victim of terrorism. The bombed-out shells of cars carrying three nuclear physicists, who were assassinated in daring roadside motorcycle attacks, were mounted on display outside the Tehran Convention Center. Iran charges that Israel was responsible.
During the opening day, Tehran appealed for NAM—an organization of 120 developing countries and 17 observer groups created in 1961—to help end economic sanctions imposed because of Iran’s non-compliance with U.N. resolutions. “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 said in an Aug. 26 speech.
Even Iranian religious leaders have preached about the international conference. “The summit is a milestone and a clear and practical response [to the United States] and shows that the global arrogance is holding just a rusty gun in its hand and its mottos are empty and its claims are baseless,” Hojatoleslam Kazzem Sediqi told worshippers at Tehran University on Aug. 24.
The Non-Aligned Movement has often taken bold positions challenging the world’s major political and economic powers, although it has limited means of impacting their decisions. It has the largest membership outside the United Nations, however.
Robin Wright, who has visited Iran regularly since 1973, is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.