Analysis: Iran revels in US discomfort as it hosts major international conference

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Picture: Getty/AFP
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Picture: Getty/AFP
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FOR a jubilant Iran, it is proof positive that a hostile United States and bellicose Israel have failed to isolate or intimidate the Islamic republic over its nuclear programme.

Iran says 36 heads of state and government will be in Tehran tomorrow for the two-day summit of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement, which opens with an address by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The summit is “a slap in the face for Israel” and a “powerful blow” to the US and its allies, Iran’s hardline daily Kayhan newspaper trumpeted.

Among Iran’s most prized guests are the new Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, and the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, will attend in an observer role, defying US and Israeli calls to stay away.

Iran is using the summit to make a “visually forceful case that attempts by the US to isolate it have failed”, said Farideh Farhi, an independent Iranian scholar at the University of Hawaii. “And second that the touting of Iran and its nuclear programme as a global problem is a function of US hostility and pressures, and not reflective of the true sentiments of the international community.”

But what Iran hopes will be a public relations bonanza might yet turn sour over its staunch support for the Syrian regime, its main Arab ally. Mr Morsi yesterday urged president Bashar al-Assad’s allies – among them Iran, Russia and China – to help lever the Syrian dictator from power. “Now is the time… for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene,” he said.

As host, Iran will prepare the first draft of the summit’s final document, which is likely to include statements affirming its right to peaceful nuclear technology and censure of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

NAM was founded in 1961 at the height of the Cold War by countries that wanted to be independent both of the US-led western bloc and the then Soviet Union. Iran is seeking to rebuild the movement as a counterweight to dominance by the five, veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, in particular the “global arrogance” America.

NAM members, mostly from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, form the biggest single voting bloc in the 193-member General Assembly.

To Iran’s evident satisfaction, US opposition to its hosting the summit has given the movement – often dismissed in the West as an anachronistic talking shop of disgruntled developing nations – more publicity than it has enjoyed in years.

At the entrance to the summit convention hall, Iran has displayed three wrecked cars, driven by Iranian nuclear scientists killed in bomb attacks that Tehran has blamed mostly on Israel. The message: Iran is not a sponsor of terrorism as the West claims but the biggest victim of terrorist attacks.

Tehran has been garlanded with coloured lights and banners, one of which reads “nuclear energy for all”. Another, less punchy, proclaims: “The Non-Aligned Movement represents the struggle against racism, colonialism, hegemony and foreign oppression.”

Iran has promised a “comprehensive package” to resolve the Syrian crisis on the sidelines of the conference. But few hold out much hope of a breakthrough, given Tehran’s repeated assertions that Mr Assad is battling a western-inspired uprising aimed at toppling his regime to weaken Iran.