By Ayesha Zuhair
It was the most high-profile diplomatic gathering in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As leaders from 120 non-aligned nations converged in Tehran for the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) they were defying calls from both the US and Israel to shun the event.
It was a turning point not only for Iran – a country that has been ostracised for opting to follow a fiercely independent foreign policy – but for all Third World nations struggling to achieve greater justice, equality, and fairness on the world stage.
The member states of the world’s second biggest grouping after the United Nations unanimously condemned the imposition of unilateral sanctions, backed Iran and other states to peaceful nuclear energy, and supported the creation of a Palestinian state.
The Tehran summit thus plainly delegitimized Western claims that Iran lacks global support for its nuclear ambitions, while (indirectly) censuring US attempts to alienate and punish the Islamic Republic.
Particularly significant was the presence of 27 presidents, two kings, seven prime ministers, nine vice presidents, six special envoys, 25 foreign ministers, and numerous other high-level ministers.
The ‘Tehran Times’ named some of the notable attendees:
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, North Korea’s parliamentary chairman Kim Yong-nam, Cuba’s Raul Castro, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai,
Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisyan, Lebanese President Michel Sulaiman, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Outraged by the international presence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the summit as a “stain on humanity.”
“Who’s isolated?” is the question now being posed in many quarters following the huge turnout in the Iranian capital, notwithstanding efforts by influential forces to derail the summit and downplay its significance.
It is well known that for several weeks prior to the Summit, Western media outlets put out a series of ‘scare stories’ including impending Israeli attacks on Iran, aimed at discouraging as many countries from participating in the Summit, while reports of the event looked for negative points for worldwide circulation.
The US tried unsuccessfully to prevent UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon going to Tehran. A top US official even wrote to the Secretary-General to dissuade him from giving Iran the honour. But Moon ignored the US call, attended the Conference and made a speech that must have pleased not only the US but also Israel, and made the US and its compliant media regret their earlier calls for Ban to keep away from Tehran.
Addressing the Summit, Ban Ki-Moon said:
“I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust,” in an obvious reference to Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s misquoted statement of the ‘extinction of the Israeli state’.
Moon must be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for publicly challenging Ahmadinejad’s right to freedom of expression on the latter’s claim that ‘holocaust is a myth’.
In addressing the leaders representing nearly two-thirds of the world’s population in the capital of a country of 80 million people, Moon did not raise the issue of Israeli threats of direct attacks on Iranian nuclear energy sites.
Millions across the globe must have seen Ban Ki-moon struggle for words to challenge the Western powers’ undue dominance of the fate of millions across the globe, facing death and destruction through wars imposed on poor countries.
Despite the scepticism and cynicism often associated with the NAM, and claims by sections of the Western media that it is nothing more than a relic of the Cold War serving no purpose in contemporary times, the very impressive turnout at head-of-state and ministerial level was indicative of the role that Third World nations recognise in NAM.
Moreover, if this evidently successful gathering of leaders of the developing world had no impact on the dominance of the Western powers in international affairs, there would have been no necessity for Western officials to exert the pressure that they did on world leaders to stay away.
Ken Stone of the Ontario-based Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War described the summit as “a breath of fresh air”. He told Press TV: “After over two decades of a unipolar world in which the US was the sole superpower, the atmosphere was getting rather stale. I thought it was really refreshing that the NAM meeting was so successful and presented a different agenda to the US, NATO and the 1% in general.
Also speaking to Press TV was Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who opined that NAM has a “very relevant” role to play even today and described the Tehran summit as “very successful”. Asked to elaborate on why he thought the movement was still relevant, Rajapaksa explained that developing countries needed a forum to air their views and to work jointly to address mutual concerns such as terrorism and economic development.
At the summit, many political leaders called for a revival of the NAM, with a view to protect countries from foreign intervention and to build a new multi-polar world. Resonant in many of the speeches made at the summit was the importance of NAM as a mechanism to protect and advance the interests of developing countries.
NAM’s significance is also well understood and recognised by the powers that be. Interestingly, in 2003 the highly pro-Western United National Front (UNF) government mooted the formation of a group to counter NAM. The proposition, which never materialised due to a change of government, was revealed by whistle-blower WikiLeaks in exposing a confidential cable sent by the then US Ambassador Ashley Willis on 29 May 2003.
According to Willis, the UNF government was highly aware that “the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world,” and “feels that it is better that Sri Lanka recognize that fact and work within it.”
What is clear in the movement post-Tehran is that the movement has been infused with renewed vigour and this development will not please Washington and Tel Aviv.
It is also highly likely that Iran will make full use of its new position as NAM Chair not only to enlist support against hostile external forces, but to bring the movement closer to NAM’s founding ideals of sustainable peace based on justice, freedom, and human dignity.
As aptly put by Martin Khor in ‘Global Trends’: “If NAM has been searching for a new identity since the end of the Cold War, it seems to have found it in the fight against continued political and economic domination by the dominant countries, in reforming the United Nations and other global institutions, and enabling the South to have a fair say in global decision-making.”
Contrary to assertions that NAM has become irrelevant, developing countries can still use NAM as a platform to draw attention to the negative effects of an unjust global economic order. NAM countries may not have military might, but if they can speak in unison on critical global issues such as nuclear disarmament, they can generate moral soft power which could neutralise Western dominance. It would also force Western powers to examine their collective conscience and re-examine their self-appointed role as guardians of the world.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressing the opening session of the summit noted:
“A bitter irony of our era is that the U.S. government, which possesses the largest and deadliest stockpiles of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction and the only country guilty of its use, is today eager to carry the banner of opposition to nuclear proliferation. Those who stockpile their anti-human weapons in their arsenals do not have the right to declare themselves the standard-bearers of global security.”
For the next three years Iran will lead this important international body. However, it remains to be seen whether Iran will succeed in taking the NAM closer to achieving the goals upon which it was founded. Given the developments that have taken place thus far, there is sufficient reason to believe that a forward momentum will ensue.