The successful 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran is a setback for the U.S./Israel campaign to isolate Iran, says journalist Robert Naiman.
Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. He edits the Just Foreign Policy daily news summary and writes on U.S. foreign policy at Huffington Post. He is also the president of the board of Truthout, an anti-war, anti-imperialism news website. Naiman has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East.
The Tehran Times conducted an interview with Naiman on Wednesday about the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran and asked him some questions about the importance of this summit, the failure of Israel and the United States in isolating Iran and the initiatives the NAM members can take up in order to promote the cause of the Palestinian nation and oppose Israel's racist and apartheid policies.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What's your analysis of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran? The Western media have made concerted efforts to downplay the importance of the summit and make people believe that it's not really that important. What's your idea?
A: The NAM summit is an opportunity for these countries to meet without the presence of the Western powers. Its relationship to the UN is similar to the relationship of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) to the OAS (Organization of American States). It's to be expected that some Western media would try to marginalize the NAM summit; they would do this to some degree even if it were not meeting in Tehran. But in addition, the fact of all these governments sending delegations to Tehran undermines the claim that Iran is “isolated,” so now some Western media have an additional reason to downplay the NAM summit.
Q: Do you think that this summit shows that Iran is not isolated as the Western governments and media claim?
A: Yes, I don't think there can be any real question about that. On the one hand, the idea that Ban Ki-moon wouldn't go was ridiculous. The UN Secretary General always goes to the NAM summit. But Egypt, for example, did not have to send its head of state. That was a choice they made. India did not have to send a big trade delegation. That was a choice they made.
Egypt was clearly sending a signal that they intend to have a more independent foreign policy from the U.S., not part of the hate chorus against Iran. In addition, Egypt's initiative on Syria is important, and the timing was significant.
Even the International Crisis Group said, “This is right”, because you have to include Iran, and this is the only way to do it, with a regional initiative, because if the U.S. is involved then you can't include Iran. That shows that Egypt has a key role to play because it can have a different relationship with Iran than the U.S. can right now.
Q: Then, can we conclude that Egypt wants close and friendly ties with Iran after some 33 years of frozen ties?
A: I think we can conclude that Egypt wants to have a different relationship with Iran than they have had, and I think that Iran wants that as well. I don't know if I would describe it as “close and friendly.” I think it is going to evolve slowly, and we're not going to see “close and friendly” right away. But I think the immediate change that we'll see is that there will be more regular contact and consultation, and that we won't see Egypt making inflammatory anti-Iran statements. In particular, I think Egypt will be weighing in against any kind of military confrontation on Iran, and in favor of diplomacy.
I thought the flap about Hamas going to Tehran for the summit was instructive. Abbas said he wouldn't go if Hamas went, and Hamas didn't go. I think this illustrates that at the end of the day Iran will defer to the Arabs on the Israel/Palestine file if they perceive that the Arabs are not making common cause with the U.S. and Israel against Iran.
Q: The NAM countries can play a significant role in the international developments, should they get united and integrated. Do you agree? How much effective can NAM be in fostering the member states' communal interests?
A: They can do a lot of things. Look what UNASUR is doing. Look how they rallied behind Ecuador when the UK threatened to raid Ecuador's embassy and how the UK backed down.
What if the NAM countries stood together more in the UN? For example, in September, Abbas is expected to make his case for the General Assembly to accept Palestine as an observer state.
This is an opportunity for the NAM countries to defy the U.S., and I think they will do so.
In addition to being righteous, this will be good for Iran, because there is a struggle going on over which TV station we should be tuned to: Palestine or Iran's nuclear program? I think a lot of Bibi( Binyamin Netanyahu)'s saber-rattling is about changing the TV station. And going to the UN is an opportunity to change the TV station back to Palestine.
Q: You mean to attract global attentions. Right?
A: Yes, to be the focus of global attention. Remember when the Israeli raid on the (freedom) flotilla happened. It was just as the U.S. and Israel were gearing up for a big diplomatic push against Iran. The flotilla raid derailed it. This is a dynamic they are very concerned about. Keep Palestine off the TV so as to focus on Iran. So Iran has an interest in promoting the opposite dynamic. But the most effective way to do this is not by Iran taking the lead, but by letting the Palestinians be in the lead, backed by the Arab countries, OIC and NAM.
Q: In a creative move, Iran showcased the cars of three Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated by Israeli intelligence agency, to the diplomatic delegations visiting Tehran. What's your idea about these assassinations, and Iran's efforts to call international attention to them? Why hasn't the UNSC condemned the killings?
A: I think it was a good move, it shows the hypocrisy of the West on “terrorism.” The U.S. position has shifted. The most recent attack was strongly condemned by the U.S. The Israelis complained about the U.S. condemnation. It will be interesting to see if the shift in U.S. position helps bring an end to these attacks, which it might and raises the question of why they did not do this before. Nonetheless, I very much welcome the shift, even while noting that it was long overdue.
Q: Can the NAM summit in Tehran help Iran to decrease the devastating impacts of economic sanctions imposed on it by the United States and EU?
A: It might. Clearly, the Indians were sending a signal. When the U.S. tries to get countries to support increased sanctions that have not been authorized by the UNSC, they try to give people the impression that “everyone is doing this.” So, if people come together and see that everyone is not doing this, quite the opposite, then this lessens the pressure for countries to follow the US line. I gather that Asian oil imports from Iran have picked up from earlier this year. Ecuador is also apparently making plans to buy Iranian oil. Also, I think that if Egypt and Iran could get a real diplomatic/political process going on Syria, it would lessen the pressure.
Q: The majority of the NAM countries are opposed to Israel's policies and actions, including its illegal settlements and its continued occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. What role can the non-aligned countries play in isolating Israel and championing the cause of the Palestinian nation?
A: There's so much they can do. If Palestine is accepted into the UN, they can go to the World Court. They can sue against the apartheid wall in the West Bank, against house demolitions, against confiscation of water resources, against the settlements.
South Africa just adopted a policy of labeling goods made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “Made in Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Every country in NAM that has an economic relationship with Israel could do that. NAM could adopt a policy saying “no economic or political relationship with the occupation or the Israeli military.” Turkey blocked Israel from participating in the NATO summit in Chicago. Everybody has more they could do to contribute to Israel's diplomatic isolation and help the Palestinians.
Q: Israel had intensively tried to dissuade the world leaders from attending the NAM summit in Tehran. But many presidents, prime ministers and vice presidents are attending the summit. Was the NAM summit a failure and setback for Israel and the U.S.?
A: I think it was a setback for the U.S./Israel campaign to “isolate” Iran, but their demands were totally unrealistic. There was never any possibility, I don't think, that Secretary General Ban would not go to Tehran. So, I think the setback was less in terms of people behaving any differently from what one would expect them to do, and more in terms of an opportunity to showcase the fact that the way the U.S. sees Iran is not the way that most of the world sees Iran.
I suspect that the U.S. knew perfectly well that there was no possibility of Ban not going to Tehran and they asked him not to just for show.
Q: Israel is the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and the final draft of foreign ministers declaration in the NAM summit included a statement that “we need a nuclear-free Middle East.” what's your evaluation of that? Why doesn't the U.S., if it's sincere in its claims of being opposed to nuclear weapons, disarm Israel?
A: Well, it's clear that the U.S. opposition to Iran's nuclear program is not about Iran having a nuclear program per se under any government, but under the present government, as you know. Under the Shah the U.S. helped Iran have a nuclear program. So, for the U.S., Israel's nuclear weapons are not a problem because Israel is a U.S. ally.
Having said that, I think in international terms the demand for a nuclear weapons free Middle East is a good one and this is something that NAM can push in the UN and at the IAEA. It puts the U.S. in an awkward position; they cannot oppose it openly.
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