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NAM summit: Iran attempts to prove Western efforts to isolate it have failed

Though Iran pulled out all the stops this week as host of the Non-Aligned Movement summit, it was met with some heavy international criticism.

By Staff writer / August 31, 2012

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi (l.-r.) attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, Iran, Thursday.

Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency/Reuters

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Istanbul, Turkey

The news anchor on Iran's state-run PressTV did not mince his words: The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) wrapping up today in Tehran was the "most important" political event in the 33-year history of the Islamic Republic. 

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Iran certainly mounted an extravagant show for the high-ranking delegations from 120 nations as it sought to demonstrate it was engaged with the world, not isolated from it. 

But what did Iran gain with its attempt to counter US-led efforts to isolate it? And what did it lose, as two of its most steadfast policies – support for the embattled Syrian regime, and nuclear defiance – came under attack from key speakers? 

"They got, on the one hand, what they wanted – to get a high profile and show they are not diplomatically isolated," says a senior Farsi-speaking European diplomat posted in Tehran until recently. "But they had to pay a political cost for that." 

That cost came from Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsi, who gave a ringing endorsement of the anti-government rebellion in Syria – Iran's closest regional ally – in his speech as he transferred the NAM chairmanship from Egypt to Iran. 

Mr. Morsi said Syria's 18-month uprising needed to be supported and was an extension of the Arab Spring revolt that toppled his predecessor in Egypt, the pro-Western Hosni Mubarak. When it happened in Cairo, Iran praised a regional "Islamic Awakening."

Yet Iran argues that Syria is a different game, labeling anti-regime activists "terrorists" bent on "sedition." Today Iranian official media seemed unsure how to handle Morsi's remarks, and official translations on Iranian broadcast media were sometimes manipulated to seem as if Morsi was actually endorsing the Syrian regime. 

Likewise, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – who resisted American pressure not to visit Iran – chastised the Iranian leadership on a number of issues, such as human rights and a lack of cooperation with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its controversial nuclear program.

"They got Morsi in for a few hours, and then Morsi took the stage and said, you are on the wrong side of fence on Syria," says the veteran diplomat who asked not to be further identified. "They got Ban Ki-moon, and he said, 'You are not cooperating enough with the IAEA'"... They got two speeches that I'm sure they wanted to be completely different."

Planting 'the seeds of instability'

While praising Iran's long history and lyrical poetic tradition, Mr. Ban kept up his diplomatic criticism of Iranian policies today during a speech at the School of International Relations in Tehran.

"Restricting freedom of expression and suppressing social activism will only set back development and plant the seeds of instability," Ban said. "It is especially important for the voices of Iran's people to be heard during next year's presidential election."

Ban said he had therefore urged the Iranian regime to "release opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, and social activists to create the conditions for free expression and open debate."

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