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All roads lead to Tehran: 16th Non-Aligned Movement summit ends Iran's isolation

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After staying virtually dormant for years, the 51 year-old Non-Aligned Movement of 120 countries took a center stage in Tehran last week which perhaps put on hold Iran's prolonged diplomatic isolation.

The summit 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. The document also advocated nuclear disarmament, human rights free from political agendas and opposition to racism and "Islamophobia."

Venezuela was selected the host for the 17th NAM Summit in 2015, while two countries, namely Azerbaijan Republic and Fiji, were accepted as the new members of the movement.

The document released at the end of the summit reiterated NAM's adherence to its original five principles; condemned the increasing tendency of certain states to resort to unilateralism and to unilaterally imposed measures, and the non-fulfillment of commitments and obligations assumed under relevant international legally binding instruments, especially on weapons of mass destruction, and conventional weapons; called for total nuclear disarmament but supported the right of states to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in 1961 on the five principles of mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

Sukarno of Indonesia, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Nakruma of Ghana and Tito of Yugoslavia were its founding fathers. It emerged as a group of developing countries that wanted to keep away from the superpower rivalries. As the name suggests, it is a movement and not an organization. It has no permanent secretariat.

As the world moved from bipolarity to unipolarity around 1990, this organization lost much of its sheen, but has not withered away. The reason is that a number of causes that it espouses are still relevant. It represents the voice of the developing world for an equitable international economic system.

The Tehran NAM Summit assumed extra importance due to its timing and venue. It came at a time when Iran's detractors thought it had been isolated.

Western diplomats have sought to downplay the importance of the summit and the start of Iran's three-year presidency of NAM. Western media attempted to ignore, downplay, or demean the NAM summit. A Washington Post editorial called it an anti-American "festival of resistance," a "useless recreational club," and a "bacchanal of nonsense."

High level participation in the summit

But 80 countries participated in the summit at the level of minister or higher with 50 sending their heads of government. According to Tehran Times, the participating dignitaries included:

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, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Despite tensions between the two countries, Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (King Abdullah's son) attended. He's currently acting deputy foreign minister. Despite row over violent crack down of anti-government demonstrations in his country, Bahrain's foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa also participated in the Tehran summit.

The final result of the Nonaligned Movement's meeting, the biggest international gathering in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, amounted to the strongest expression of support for Iran's nuclear energy rights in its showdown with the West. The Tehran Declaration document not only emphasizes Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy but acknowledges the right to ownership of a full nuclear fuel cycle, which means uranium enrichment -- a matter of deep dispute. The unanimous backing of the final document undercut the American argument that Iran was an isolated outlier nation.

However, the current violence in Syria proved elusive for the NAM summit and was ignored in the final document. Iran's delegation failed to secure some kind of support for the Syrian government, diplomats said, as the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his aides were criticizing foreign backing of the Syrian insurgency.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who handed over the NAM chair to Iran in the first visit by an Egyptian head of state since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, also embarrassed Tehran by publicly siding with the Syrian opposition. Morsi said in his speech that the bloodshed in Syria would only end if there were "effective interference" from outside, a remark that has raised ire of the Syrian delegation, prompting them to angrily walk out of the conference room while Morsi was giving the speech. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Morsi's speech incites more bloodshed in Syria.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 
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