Sidelines At Non-Aligned Summit Should Deal with Important Issues

Although the upcoming Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran will not directly address issues relating to the Syrian crisis, it's likely that important meetings related to Syria will occur on the summit’s sidelines. Iran’s position during the summit will not only have an effect on the crisis but will have repercussions for a host of wider Iranian-Arab issues. Daoud Rammal reports. 

al-monitor Foreign ministers and head of delegations from the Non-Aligned Movement countries enter the Serbian Parliament building in Belgrade Sept. 5, 2011.  Photo by REUTERS/Marko Djurica.

Topics covered

syria, iran, ban ki moon

Aug 27, 2012

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, which will be held Thursday and Friday [Aug. 30-31] in the Iranian capital, will not discuss issues relating to the Syrian crisis. The summit will be attended by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Adnan Mansour, who flew ahead of the president to Tehran  to take part in preparatory meetings with other foreign ministers and experts.

It is clear that there is a specific framework behind regional consultations. Regional talks began with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit that was recently held in Mecca. Talks will continue in the upcoming Tehran summit and also during other subsequent regional meetings. In the same context, international meetings are likely to be held, as France has called for a conference at the UN Security Council on Aug. 30.

According to a prominent Lebanese diplomat, "The Tehran summit must reinstate the role of the NAM, thus laying the groundwork for reinventing this movement, which played a specific role during the Cold War period. During this period there was international polarization into the Western and Eastern camps, with the US leading the former and the Soviet Union leading the latter. The pertinent question, however, is: How will the NAM re-position itself today in light of these international issues?”

He added: "The Tehran summit, like other international summits and meetings, will try to take advantage of the positive climate surrounding the relations between certain regional countries, especially between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The summit will also serve as an occasion to establish connections between countries, particularly given that some high-level states have decided to take part in the meeting. Most importantly, one must question whether  or not the US has commissioned one or more states to negotiate with Iran. This would be further confirmed in light of the meetings that will be held on the sidelines of the summit."

He also said that "Iran will benefit from the sheer number of participants in this summit. It is also pertinent to consider whether or not secret negotiations will be held between some of the US-commissioned participants and the Iranians, especially if the Indian prime minister attends. The senior Indian official is in the habit of carrying out negotiations on behalf of the Americans, and is likely to address issues relating to the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear program at the summit."

The Lebanese diplomat did not rule out the fact that Jeffrey Feltman — a former senior diplomat in the US administration, who has recently move to the United Nations to serve as a political adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — may be among the participants in the summit, along with the secretary-general himself. Ban defied Western, notably Israeli, pressure seeking to prevent him from taking part in the Tehran summit.

Moreover, the Lebanese diplomat believes that should Feltman participate in the summit, this would indicate that some negotiations of great importance will likely take place on the sidelines of the summit, particularly between the Iranians and Americans. This not to mention the presence of regional powers that could play an active role, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, of course, Iran.

Our source believes that “this summit is likely to reflect the NAM's position towards Syria, Bahrain and many other Arab issues. It will also highlight Iran's influential role." He added: "It has been the custom for the participant states to show adulation for the host country. Thus, the pertinent question is: to what extent will the participants keep pace with the Iranians regarding the decisions that were made, especially by the "BRICS" state-members and their stance towards the Syrian crisis. It must also be noted that the majority of the NAM countries have voted at the UN General Assembly in favor of the Western project with regard to the Syrian crisis."

The diplomat added that Iran has been informed of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's decision to participate in the summit. Iranians have responded positively to a proposal by the Egyptian president aimed at forming a new regional contact group to tackle the Syrian crisis. The group would include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. Some concerned parties suggested that this group be expanded to include "sponsors," that is, the US and Russia. However, others prefer that it remains limited to regional parties, provided it receives regional and international coverage and assumes responsibility in forging a vision for solving the Syrian crisis.

Furthermore, the diplomat expects that the Egyptian proposal will be further discussed during the next Security Council meeting. It is likely that Cairo will host this meeting, since it serves as the best location for the proposed group of countries. The group would be responsible for laying out a road map that would be accepted by the Syrian regime as well as the opposition, including groups based in Syria and abroad. A transitional period must be at the heart of this plan. An unconditional national dialogue must be held and followed by the formation of a national unity government. Legislative elections ought to be carried out to form a legislative or constituent council that would be charged with drafting a new constitution.

According to the Lebanese source, "the main points that can be inferred in advance of the Tehran summit are the following:
1- Iran is not isolated. It is present and plays a role on the international level.
2- Iran has channels of communications with the world, including the West, either directly or indirectly.
3- Iran is trying to gauge how far it can go in persuading the states to take clear and critical decisions regarding Syria, the Iranian nuclear dossier and relations with the Gulf.
4- Iran, especially Iranian President Mahmoud Amhadinejad, will take advantage of the summit to showcase the genuine Iranian desire to hold dialogue with the Arab states (the GCC, in particular). This would reflect Iran's position: whether it is embarking on the path of negotiations with the Arab world, or it is heading toward a blurry collision that would require additional work in order to determine what is actually happening on the regional landscape."

"All indications suggest that this phase necessitates further groundwork. There are some forces in Iran and in the Gulf that are not keen on the dialogue. Some Gulf states even tend to take a hostile position towards Iran. However, following the OIC Mecca summit, Iranian President Ahmadinejad seemed fervent for the dialogue, as he noted in a statement given upon his return to Tehran. In fact, Saudi King Abdullah bin Adbul Aziz did not take long to take a similar position. Despite a short time lag, the king took four major steps:

1- He called for a “dialogue between civilizations” at the UN, regardless of its results.
2- During the Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait, the Saudi King took the first step towards reconciliation with Syria and Iran. This has resulted in the “Syrian-Saudi Equation” following the king's visit to Syria and his subsequent trip to Lebanon, flying to Beirut on the same plane with Bashar al-Assad. Afterwards, former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri visited Syria and then Iran.
3- The Saudi king received Iranian officials, most importantly Ahmadinejad.
4- The king has called for a dialogue between various Islamic sects — particularly, Sunnis and Shiites — during the Mecca summit.

According to the same source, "the question that remains to be answered is how will the Iranian-Saudi dialogue be completed, especially since everyone knows that it will have repercussions on the entire Arab world. The Lebanese political landscape would also be affected by the meeting’s outcomes, given that the country's two main forces (the so-call March 8 and March 14 political camps) have ties to Iran and Saudi Arabia alike."

As for Lebanon's participation in the summit, the source said that "the Lebanese president's presence at the summit is of significant importance. In all the regional and international conferences, Lebanon has not changed its position. Regarding the Syrian issue, Lebanon has remained non-aligned with any major power, whether during the OIC summer, the Arab League and now the NAM summit. As for other controversial topics, Lebanon will play a conciliatory role."

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Daoud Rammal