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Non-aligned movement or just unaligned?

Established to counterbalance dominance of US and former Soviet Union, NAM members are now at an impasse over Syria.
Last modified: 30 Aug 2012 20:33

It was supposed to be a day of great fanfare and grand statements in Tehran.

Instead, within minutes of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit opening, controversy surfaced as Al Jazeera's camera shot two empty seats during the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi's handover speech of the chairmanship to Iran.

The seats belonged to the Syrian delegation. In an apparent show of disgust at the tough words Morsi had used, they had left before he had finished speaking.

The language was blunt, Morsi spoke with clear and calm ferocity.

"We express our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost legitimacy," he said. "This is not only an ethical duty, but also a political
and strategic necessity,"

"Strategic" and "political" necessity - keywords deliberately chosen.

Unlikely consensus

Egypt's own revolution means that men like Morsi understand what it is like to fight for freedom. Perhaps more important though is who the message was aimed at.

Iran is taking over the chair of the movement. It has a very good relationship with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and has always maintained that all sides in the conflict should sit down and talk without precondition.

But Morsi and others would like to see Assad gone and a new government forged in the country. One that shares Morsi's ideals.

Not everyone at the summit will agree with Morsi.

So the question now is: Can this disparate bunch of countries get together and agree on an issue like Syria?

It is unlikely that they will. What may happen is some sort of statement that is so general as to mean nothing in practical terms.

But it could spark more intense negotiations between Iran and Syria. Why?

Because Iran could use an agreement on Syria, however general, as diplomatic cover to say to the US and the West, who insist that Iran has no role to play in Syria, that it has international legitimacy to help Syrians resolve the conflict.

This is all a long way off and will involve a feat of diplomacy that has so far has eluded the Non-aligned Movement. Given that day one of the summit sparked such controversy, the unaligned movement may well be a better name for the group.