Monday, 3 September 2012

NAM Summit - A Bad Day at Black Rock

Politics is an endlessly fascinating pursuit. The unexpected seems always to be lurking around the next corner ready to spring out at you, as confident predictions fail to materialise and expectations are so often dashed.

For example. the summit conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) held last week in Tehran, could reasonably have been expected to be a major propaganda coup for Iran and its Islamist leadership. The chairmanship of the movement for the next three years was to pass from Egypt to Iran, and this would surely provide President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a golden opportunity to address the world from a prestigious soapbox, with the authority of the 120 nations represented by NAM to back him up.

The promotional possibilities for Iran of the unique occasion seemed even more enhanced when the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, decided to attend the summit, ignoring the pleas of the United States and Israel to boycott the event. After all, the chairman-to-be, Ahmadinejad, stood in flagrant breach of UN resolutions concerning Iran’s nuclear development, and his country was subject to stringent sanctions in consequence. Why should the Secretary General provide a cloak of respectability for him to hide under?

Iran’s leadership must also have been rubbing their hands at the thought of Egypt’s newly-elected President Mohamed Morsy, a long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, visiting Tehran. Morsy's visit would be the first by an Egyptian president since the two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1979, following Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Although Morsy’s spokesman emphasized ahead of time that he would spend only four hours on Iranian soil, including getting stuck in traffic, Iran's leaders relished the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with the Arab Spring.

In the event, Iran’s two expected promotional triumphs turned to dust and ashes before their very eyes.

The assault was led by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, who publicly denounced his hosts for their persistent threats to destroy Israel and their denial of the Holocaust. And he called on the ayatollahs to co-operate fully with the UN over its nuclear program, which most Western intelligence agencies believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

“I urge all NAM members to work within the principles of the UN Charter to resolve disputes peacefully,” he said. “We must prevent conflict between all UN member states. And from this platform – as I have repeatedly stated around the world − I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another, or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust. Claiming that another UN Member State, Israel, does not have the right to exist, or describing it in racist terms, is not only utterly wrong, but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold.”

Ban couldn’t have spoken more clearly, and Ahmadinejad’s nose was very publicly put out of joint.

If the Iranian leadership hoped to recoup the situation by parading the new Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsy, before the world as supporting Iran’s international standing as hosts of the NAM summit, those hopes too were soon dashed. For when President Morsy addressed the summit − and much, no doubt, to the dismay of his hosts − he strongly supported the Syrian opposition against Iran's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost legitimacy,” he said, “is an ethical duty as it is a political and strategic necessity."

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when Syria’s delegation staged a mass walk-out.

Sitting directly beside Ahmadinejad, Morsy said: "I am here to announce our full and just support for a free, independent Syria that supports a transition into a democratic system and that respects the will of the Syrian people for freedom and equality at the same time, preventing Syria from going into civil war or going into sectarian divisions."

It perhaps goes without saying that Iranian state media did not report the anti-Syria parts of Morsy's speech or the walk out by the Syrian delegation. Iran had pinned high hopes on Morsy's visit - the first by an Egyptian head of state in more than 30 years. The two countries have had no formal diplomatic ties since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, because of Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Once Morsy, known as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, became president, Tehran had not only hoped to resume full diplomatic relations, but also to attract Cairo as an ally to keep the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad in power. Morsy’s speech at the NAM summit put paid to all such hopes.

So, all in all, a bad day at black rock, as far as the expectations of Iran’s leaders from the NAM summit were concerned. The event left egg on their faces, which it will take some time and effort to remove.


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