Non-Aligned Nations Back Iran's Nuclear Program
July 31, 2008 - 8:25 AMThe 118-member Non-Aligned Movement has endorsed Iran’s right to nuclear energy. Tehran said the move signals the failure of U.S. efforts to isolate it.
The support from the United Nations’s biggest bloc came just days before a deadline set by major powers for Iran to accept a deal aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff.
In a statement at the end of a foreign ministers’ meeting in Tehran Wednesday, NAM also echoed Iran’s position that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the only entity that should have jurisdiction over the issue.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government wants to get the nuclear dossier out of the U.N. Security Council, where three rounds of sanctions already have been imposed over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran has enjoyed somewhat more sympathy at the Vienna-based IAEA, where 16 of the 35 members of the board of governors are NAM nations.
Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, told the country’s Press TV that the NAM foreign ministers’ statement sent “a strong signal to those who are talking of Iran's isolation.”
Soltaniyeh said important elements contained in the statement included “the inalienable right of all countries” to pursue nuclear energy, without discrimination, and that fact that “the IAEA is considered as the only pertinent technical organization to deal with this issue.”
The U.S. and its European allies suspect that Iran’s nuclear energy program – which it hid from the world for almost two decades before it was exposed by regime opponents in 2002 – is cover for a drive to develop atomic bombs. Iran says it is for purely peaceful purposes.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have given Iran until Saturday to respond to an offer of an incentive package in return for freezing its nuclear activities.
But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, struck a defiant tone Wednesday, saying his country would not back down in the face of the demands.
The NAM statement also said that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would violate the U.N. Charter and international law.
NAM, a grouping of developing countries mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, accounts for more than 60 percent of the U.N.’s member states.
Although ostensibly not aligned with or against any major power bloc, it has frequently lined up against the West, with the anti-U.S. Cuban, Venezuelan and Iranian governments taking increasingly prominent roles in recent years.
Other issues covered in the ministers’ statement included demands for Israel to stop what it called acts of “genocide” against Palestinians, and expressions of concern over NATO expansion and U.S. policies towards the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to Iranian reports.
India’s ‘delusional obsession’
Among the ministers taking part in the NAM meeting was Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, whose government is hoping to finalize a major civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. before the end of the Bush administration.
The U.S. Congress will have to ratify the deal, and some lawmakers have argued that India should be more supportive of the U.S. on the Iran question if it wishes the nuclear cooperation agreement to go ahead.
Although New Delhi has twice sided against Iran in IAEA votes to refer Tehran to the Security Council, it has also bristled over U.S. objections to a planned deal for a natural gas pipeline between Iran and India.
India has been a major player in NAM from the outset, one of its founders in the post-colonial era along with Indonesia, Yugoslavia, Egypt and Ghana. (The term “non-alignment” was first coined in a 1954 speech by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.)
Some critics think that should change, however.
International relations and strategic affairs analyst Dr. Subhash Kapila of the India-based South Asia Analysis Group said Thursday he had long argued that non-alignment was a “delusional obsession” with no strategic or political gain for India.
“I strongly feel that India as a founding member of NAM should wind up this anachronistic organization or if that is not possible it should withdraw from it,” Kapila said.
He doubted this would happen, however, noting that India’s diplomatic community and the ruling Congress party had their fair share of “NAM gladiators.”
“Today when India is aspiring for global power status it does not behoove India to be in questionable company and drawing avoidable flak from those who could propel India to a world power status,” he said.
In 2005, the U.S. government signaled a plan to help India become “a major world power” in the 21st century, with the nuclear cooperation a key element in that strategy.