By Bernhard Schell
Whether or not the sixteenth summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM16) in Tehran from August 26 to 31 was a setback for the U.S., which led efforts to “isolate” Iran, the fact is that it took place at a crucial point in time for international relations that are characterised by a tug-of-war between Iran and major western countries as well as the continuing civil war in Syria.
It was not surprising therefore that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose decision to attend the NAM meeting was criticised at the U.S. State Department media briefing by spokesperson Victoria Nuland on August 22, stressed the importance of NAM but did not shy of giving the Iranian government a bit of his mind
Ban said that assuming the leadership of the NAM provides Iran with the opportunity to demonstrate that it can play a “moderate and constructive role” internationally. “That includes responsible action on the nuclear programme which is among the top concerns of the international community,” he stated.
“For the sake of peace and security in this region and globally, I urge the Government of Iran to take the necessary measures to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme,” he said, adding that this can be done by fully complying with the relevant Security Council resolutions and cooperating with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”
Iran’s nuclear activities have been of international concern since the discovery, in 2003, that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years, in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear programme is for the peaceful purpose of providing energy, but many countries contend it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
According to a United Nations spokesperson, in a meeting on August 30, with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Aliakbar Salehi, Ban had shared his concern about Iran’s nuclear programme and underscored the importance of transparency in this matter, as well as the need for Iran to fully comply with the IAEA.
Regarding Iran’s talks with the P5+1 grouping, which is made up of the five Security Council permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – along with Germany, Ban and Salehi agreed on the need for positive momentum that would advance the talks, according to the Secretary-General’s spokesperson.
In an interview with Tehran Times, an eminent journalist Robert Naiman said: “. . . it’s clear that the U.S. opposition to Iran’s nuclear program is not about Iran having a nuclear program per se under any government, but under the present government . . . . Under the Shah the U.S. helped Iran have a nuclear program. So, for the U.S., Israel’s nuclear weapons are not a problem because Israel is a U.S. ally.”
Naiman added: “Having said that, I think in international terms the demand for a nuclear weapons free Middle East is a good one and this is something that NAM can push in the UN and at the IAEA. It puts the U.S. in an awkward position; they cannot oppose it openly.”
Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy and writes on U.S. foreign policy for the prestigious Huffington Post. He is also the president of the board of Truthout, “an anti-war, anti-imperialism” news website.
In an obvious reference to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contentious speeches and statements, including calls to “eliminate the Zionist regime” (Israel), Ban said: “. . . 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.”
He added: “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.”
Taking up another delicate issue particularly for Iran, the UN chief noted that the crisis in Syria started with peaceful demonstrations that were met by ruthless force, and urged all parties to stop the violence now.
“Now, we face the grim risk of long-term civil war destroying Syria’s rich tapestry of communities,” he said. “Those who provide arms to either side in Syria are contributing to the misery. Further militarization is not the answer. The situation cannot be resolved with the blood and the bodies of more than 18,000 people and counting. There should be no more bullets and bombs.”
Underscoring Iran’s concern about developments in Syria, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has described the on-going unrest in Syria as the West’s “proxy war” against Damascus aimed at serving Israel’s interests.
“The reality of developments in Syria is a proxy war against the Syrian government by certain governments led by the U.S. and some other powers aimed at serving the interests of the Zionist regime [of Israel] and harming the [anti-Israeli] resistance [front] in the region,” said Ayatollah Khamenei at a August 31 meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has attended the 16th NAM Summit.
Meanwhile, the Syrian people have been compromised as the victims of this plot and this situation should stop immediately, Khamenei added. He asked the NAM to “take the initiative by becoming politically involved in the Syrian crisis and put an end to the existing situation.”
Iran and Iraq, as the presidents of the NAM and the Arab League respectively, should utilize the potentials of these international bodies in order to sway serious and positive influence with regard to the regional issues, Khamenei added.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Ayatollah Khamenei expressed satisfaction over the unity among the Iraqi political factions and added: “The regional countries and all the groups and [political] currents in Iraq should know that the Americans are not a reliable partner and, whenever they deem necessary, they will undoubtedly renege on their promises and betray [their partners].”
According Iran’s Press TV, “Maliki, for his part, expressed satisfaction over Baghdad’s success to surmount many of its challenges and called for Iran’s assistance to help the country pass through the reconstruction process.
“The Iraqi premier also voiced concern over the unrest in Syria and intervention of foreign elements and extremist groups in the country and called on the NAM to take the initiative to resolve the Syrian crisis.”
Addressing the summit on August 30, Ban highlighted the strong partnership between the United Nations and the NAM, while also stressing the need for both bodies to rise to the challenge of responding to the needs of those they represent.
“Today the United Nations and the NAM face the supreme challenge of answering people’s aspirations,” Ban said in his remarks to the group’s 16th summit. “I see two paths for rising to this challenge: prevention to help deal with a society’s political grievances; and sustainability to help address society’s developmental challenges.”
He drew the focus on the “powerful yearning for freedom” within nations – the freedom to participate, the freedom to make one’s voice heard and the freedom to choose one’s government.
“In some places this has brought transformation and new beginnings, but in others, we see suppression and frustration,” he said indirectly referring to the Arab Spring. “That is why I have urged world leaders to listen seriously and sincerely. Listen to the appeals of people – for justice, for human rights, for dignity.”
Ban also cited the need to tackle challenges such as climate change, women’s empowerment, sustainable development and poverty eradication, as well as the “far too many” political disputes within and between NAM member States, including Sudan and South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Mali.
“I urge all NAM members to work within the principles of the UN Charter to resolve disputes peacefully,” Ban said. “But it is not sufficient to focus on lowering tensions between NAM countries, as important as that is. We must prevent conflict between all UN Member States.
Ban said that, in this period of “profound transition,” NAM – which represents nearly two-thirds of the UN’s 193 members – continues to define its evolving identity and address changing notions of sovereignty in an age of interconnectedness.
“You represent diverse societies joined by common goals. I urge you to unite as well to promote and protect the values embedded in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association.
“For much of your membership, this internal effort should be the next frontier of action for your people,” said the Secretary-General. “Our organizations must keep pace in changing times. Long-held assumptions may need to change.”
President of the General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser also addressed the NAM summit. He commended the rich and varied activity of the group, which can help to promote a safer and more stable global environment, while noting that the world is a much more different place than it was when NAM was established 50 years ago.