Inside Story

Did the NAM summit backfire on Iran?

We ask what Iran has gained from hosting the Non-Aligned Movement summit and whether members are still non-aligned.

The 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had gathered this week in Tehran for a two-day summit. On the agenda are the Syrian crisis, human rights and nuclear disarmament.

Iran hopes the high-profile event will prove that attempts by the West to punish it economically for its disputed nuclear programme have failed.

After 50 years of establishment what is the value of the [NAM]? It has no ideology, no policy… It’s a club of states which have absolutely no influence over international politics. This meeting actually backfired on Iran…instead of helping it recover and break the isolation.

– Mustafa Alani, the director of security and defence, the Gulf Research Centre

But there is already discord over Syria when Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president, called for “solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people” against what he called Bashar al-Assad’s “oppressive regime”.

Iran is a key backer of the Syrian government, and Morsi’s speech prompted the Syrian delegation to walk out of the meeting in protest.

The US and Israel have tried to discourage members of the NAM from attending the event in the Iranian capital.

The NAM summit, held for nations not allied to any major power bloc – is seen as a tool to advance the interests of developing nations.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, outlining clearly what was at stake in the Syrian conflict, called on all states to stop supplying weapons to all sides in the Syrian conflict, saying: “Now we face the grim risk of civil war, destroying Syria’s rich tapestry of communities. Those who provide arms to either side in Syria are contributing to the misery. Further militarisation is not the answer.”

On Wednesday Ban met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and expressed concerns about Iran’s human rights record and urged Khamenei to take concrete steps to prove Iran’s nuclear work is peaceful.

For Iranian leaders the image of reality is much more important than the reality itself, and they think that they can create the perception of reality for everyone and escape from what reality entails… The Iranian government thinks [they] can manage public perception and opinion.”

– Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Khamenei who also spoke at the summit, accused the UN Security Council of being outmoded and controlled by the US, and reiterated Iran’s rights to a peaceful nuclear energy programme.

He said: “I repeat that [Iran] is not developing capabilities for nuclear weapons, but also will not overlook the rights of its people and their need for access to peaceful nuclear energy. Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons is for none. We stand by both of these mottos, and we know that breaking the bias views that some foreign countries hold about the production of nuclear energy and the underlying fundamentals is to the benefit of all nations.”

In this episode Inside Story asks: How will the NAM summit boost Iran’s image?

Joining presenter Veronica Pedrosa for the discussion are guests: Sadegh Zibakalam, a political analyst and professor of political science at the University of Tehran; Mustafa Alani, the director of security and defence at the Gulf Research Centre; and Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a scholar of Islamic studies.

“We are not talking about Iran’s isolation, economic or domestic problems. We’re talking about the NAM being held in Iran. Obviously any third world regime would have made propaganda…whether or not the NAM has a role to play today has nothing to do with Iran.”

Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor, the University of Tehran