People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 42

October 21, 2012





The Importance of NAM


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE 16th summit of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) in Teheran took place at a time when war clouds are hovering over the horizon. Israel has been making repeated military threats against Iran while the situation in Syria threatens to get out of control. Israel and its major ally, the US, have vainly tried to persuade key countries like India and Egypt to either boycott the summit or send low level delegations. But Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, could not have avoided a trip to Teheran given India’s status as a founding member of the NAM. Besides, India had to allay the misgivings in Teheran about some of its recent policy decisions connected to the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran by the West. There were also bilateral issues to be discussed. A visit of the Indian prime minister to Iran has long been pending. Ahead of the NAM summit, India, Iran and Afghanistan held discussions on the development of the new Chabahar port. This port in Iran will provide an alternative route for Indian goods to Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.




The newly elected Egyptian president, Mohamed Mursi, was duly present to hand over the NAM presidency to Iran. The last NAM summit was presided over by his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian president’s recent visit was the first high level visit by an Egyptian leader since the Iranian revolution of 1979. The leaders of India, Egypt and Iran were photographed sharing the high table. India and Egypt have a pronounced pro-American tilt in their foreign policies. Iran was thus making a point that Washington now could not take their support for granted.


Indian officials, however, took pains to explain that the Indian prime minister was not aware of the seating arrangements and was taken by surprise when he was positioned next to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. The Indian prime minister, however, had had long, separate meetings with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian president. India wants to emphasise that it still values the traditional relationship with Iran and will strive to maintain “strategic autonomy” in the conduct of bilateral relations.


Both Washington and Tel Aviv had openly advised the UN secretary general Ban Ki moon from going to Teheran. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had personally appealed to the UN secretary general not to attend the NAM summit, brazenly describing Iran as “a regime that represents the greatest threat to world peace.” It is another matter that in his interaction with the media Ban mainly echoed the views of Iran’s enemies. He dutifully criticised Iran over its human rights record, nuclear proliferation issues and the stand on Israel. The UN secretary general had no words of criticism for the serious human rights violations of the Obama administration or its allies in the region.


Iran’s supreme leader, during his meeting with the UN chief, demanded that the international body must take action against Israel’s huge unaccounted nuclear arsenal. Ayatollah Khamenei, in his opening speech at the summit, once again emphasised that Iran had no desire to possess nuclear weapons. He said that possessing nuclear weapons was “a great sin” and called for the establishment of a nuclear free zone in West Asia. The overwhelming majority of NAM members are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran is duty bound to ensure that there is no violation of the NPT during its three year tenure as the NAM chair. Any non-compliance by Iran with the NPT will not go down well with the rest of the NAM members. While opening the ministerial level meeting in connection with the NAM summit, the Iranian foreign minister said that his country supported the goal of the NAM to abolish all nuclear weapons by 2025. There are an estimated 20,000 nuclear weapons on the planet.




Despite the best efforts of the West, the summit was attended by almost all the 120 member states, comprising more than two thirds of the UN membership. As many as 40 heads of state were present in Teheran. The Israeli prime minister, in a statement devoid of all diplomacy, said that the presence of such a large number of leaders in Teheran “was a stain on humanity.” The leaders present at the summit reiterated their resolve to the broad goals of the movement --- non-intervention in the internal affairs of any particular country, non-discrimination, and national liberation.


These goals formulated in 1961 by leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser remains valid even today. Coincidentally, the NAM summit in Iran coincided with the 59th anniversary of the CIA sponsored coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. NAM remains the last big anti-imperialist grouping that remains intact while most regional groupings are now subservient to the western agenda for the world. On top of the NAM agenda in Teheran were issues relating to Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, the situation in Syria, the West’s double standards on terrorism and the use of force to settle disputes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of a unipolar world, international laws and sovereignty of states have been routinely trampled upon. The decolonisation process is yet to be fully completed.


Iran, which is constantly sought to be diplomatically isolated by the West, showed to the world that it has no shortage of friends, if the attendance at the NAM summit was an indication. Before the NAM summit, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, was in Saudi Arabia, to attend the annual summit Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). He prominently shared the dais with the Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz. To ensure the presence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, the Iranian government hurriedly cancelled the invitation issued to the Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.


The Iranian president did not raise any contentious issues at the OIC summit in Mecca despite the unilateral move to suspend Syria from the organisation in violation of its charter. The Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, did say that suspending Syria was a mistake and would only complicate the search for a solution to the conflict there. The 57 member OIC, founded in 1969, has the goal of “promoting solidarity among members and upholding peace and security.” The Iranian position that the conflict in Syria can be resolved through mediation involving the countries in the region is finding wide acceptance.


Despite reiterating his call for the removal of the Syrian government in his speech at the NAM summit at Teheran, the Egyptian president wants a contact group on Syria to be set up ---  comprising Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. This position reflects the line being adopted by Russia and China at the UN Security Council. Iran had tried to incorporate in the final Declaration a paragraph on the Syrian situation, decrying outside interference. But due to the strong objections of countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there was no reference to the burning Syrian issue. All decisions in the NAM are taken on the basis of consensus.  




Ayatollah Khamenei had earlier criticised the role being played by the UN Security Council in world affairs. With the UN secretary general, sitting by his side, Khamenei said that the “control room of the world (the Security Council) is under the control of the dictatorship of some western countries.” He pointed out the irony of the US preaching non-proliferation “when the US possesses the largest and deadliest stockpiles of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction and is the only country guilty of its use. He went on to add that the US had helped “the usurping Zionist regime with nuclear weapons and created a major threat for the sensitive region.”


The NAM member countries handed Iran a significant diplomatic victory by unanimously supporting Iran’s right to peacefully harness nuclear energy and criticising the Obama administration’s effort to isolate the country economically by introducing unilateral sanctions. The Teheran Declaration also acknowledged the country’s right to ownership of a full fuel cycle, which means the right to uranium enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released another report on Iran nuclear programme to coincide with the NAM summit. Contrary to the stories in the western media, the IAEA report shows that Iran has actually reduced the amount of 20 per cent enriched uranium required to produce weapons grade enrichment. The US has been saying that the high level enriched uranium Iran has been producing since 2009 takes the country a step closer to possessing nuclear weapons.


Iran has wanted to negotiate in good faith with the West on the issue but Washington, prodded on by Tel Aviv, wants to use the nuclear issue to facilitate a regime change in Teheran. In late 2010, Iran had offered to keep its enrichment activities below five per cent, in return for the West providing fuel rods for the Teheran reactor. That offer was refused. Iran repeated the offer again in 2011, only to be rejected once again by the West.


During the course of the NAM summit, Iran signed trade and diplomatic agreements with 30 countries. Many of the countries were from Africa, Latin America and Central Asia.


The successful hosting of the NAM summit showed that Iran is far from being isolated internationally and is in fact a major player in the region. Unlike many other countries, it prefers to use “soft power” to enhance its influence. The Iranian leadership has said that it would make the NAM a force to reckon with once again. Indian officials have also said that they want the NAM to regain the pre-eminent position it once occupied in world affairs. Under the leadership of Hosni Mubarak for the last three years, the NAM had become a moribund organisation. The decline had started after the end of the Cold War. After the Teheran summit, silver linings are visible once again.