Middle East

Syria divisions, Iran nuclear row undermine NAM meeting

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the closing session of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran on August 31, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI)

TEHRAN: Iran Friday closed a two-day summit of non-aligned states with hopes of boosting its international prestige overshadowed by divisions over Syria and undermined by a new critical U.N. nuclear watchdog report.

Representatives from the 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement adopted a document that condemned unilateral sanctions, backed the right of Iran and other states to peaceful nuclear energy, and supported the creation of a Palestinian state, Iranian media reported.

The document also reportedly advocated nuclear disarmament, human rights free from political agendas and opposition to racism and “Islamophobia.” The text was not available late Friday on the Foreign Ministry website dedicated to the summit.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chaired the closing ceremony, reflecting his country’s presidency of the NAM for the next three years, after which it will pass to Venezuela.

With around 30 heads of state or government attending, and senior officials filling out the heavily secured hall, Iran portrayed the summit as a triumph over Western attempts to isolate it over its disputed nuclear activities.

Ahmadinejad said the summit was “unique in quality and in the number of participants.”

But the nuclear issue came back to take a bite out of that goal, with the U.N. atomic watchdog releasing a report half way through the summit accusing Iran of having “significantly hampered” inspectors’ efforts to investigate a suspect military site, Parchin.

The report also said Iran had in the past three months installed more than 1,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in its fortified Fordo nuclear bunker that is one of the prime concerns of the U.S. and fellow permanent U.N. Security Council members.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his opening speech Thursday, railed against the “dictatorship” of the Security Council. He said Iran would “never” cease its nuclear energy activities, which he asserted were not aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also rejected the Parchin allegations, telling the ISNA news agency they had “no technical basis” and that “one cannot clean a site” of nuclear work.

A member of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, called the timing of the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report “politically motivated.”

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who attended the summit despite criticism from the U.S. and Israel, spent much of his visit hammering Iran’s leaders for defying U.N. resolutions and demanding that they curb their nuclear program. He stressed “the cost of Iran’s current trajectory,” and said that “any country at odds with the international community ... finds itself isolated from the thrust of common progress.”

The U.N. chief also tackled Iran on its human rights record and suppression of political dissent. He called on Tehran to release “opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and social activists” to promote public discourse ahead of a 2013 presidential election to choose Ahmadinejad’s successor.

On Syria, Ban urged all sides to stop fighting, but said the Damascus government “had the primary responsibility ... to halt its use of heavy weapons.” He said “all those actors who may be providing arms to both sides ... must stop.”

Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, in the first visit by an Egyptian head of state since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, also embarrassed Tehran Thursday by publicly siding with the Syrian opposition. He called the Syrian insurgency a struggle for democracy against an “oppressive” regime.

Iranian state media made little to no mention of the contentious comments by Ban and Mursi. But given the ultimately failed U.N. and Arab League efforts to negotiate an end to Syria’s violence, Iran’s supreme leader said Friday that emerging nations have a greater right than the West or the U.N. to help resolve the country’s escalating civil war.

Khamenei met Friday with Syria’s prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, and Damascus’ delegation to the conference. “The Non-Aligned Movement definitely has more political right than the U.S., NATO or some European countries to intervene in the Syrian issue,” Khamenei said. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 01, 2012, on page 1.




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