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Iran takes over leadership of non-aligned group

It gets rotating presidency of the 120-nation group

Image Credit: AFP
Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, attends the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) foreign ministers' meeting in Tehran on August 28, 2012
Gulf News

Tehran: Egypt’s chief delegate has transferred the leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement to Iran, which is seeking to rebuild the Cold War-era group into a greater voice against Western influence.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Ramzi Ezz Al Deen Ramzi formally gave Iran the rotating presidency of the 120-nation group yesterday. Iran is currently hosting a week-long gathering of the 51-year-old movement, which ends on Friday.

Officials expected to attend include Egypt’s President Mohammad Mursi, who would be the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran has a far-reaching agenda for the meetings, including trying to launch a peace effort for Syria with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Syrian rebels are likely to reject any bids by Iran, which is a close ally of Bashar Al Assad.

Meanwhile, Iran said it has no plans to show its nuclear sites to diplomats visiting Tehran for this week’s NAM summit, despite an earlier offer by a deputy foreign minister.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh hinted on Monday that visiting NAM diplomats might be allowed to tour the Parchin military base, which the UN nuclear watchdog says may have been used for nuclear-related explosives trials.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast appeared to pour cold water on the idea. “We have no specific plans for a visit to Iran’s nuclear installations by foreign guests participating in the summit of NAM member countries,” state news agency Irna quoted him as saying.

A Western diplomat had dismissed as a “bad publicity stunt” Akhoundzadeh’s tentative offer, made after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) again failed to gain access to Parchin for its inspectors at a meeting in Vienna on Friday.

“It is the IAEA that should have been given access to Parchin,” the senior diplomat told Reuters in Vienna.

Iran is hosting the NAM summit, which ends on Friday, at a time when the West is trying to isolate the Islamic Republic over suspicions it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran says its atomic programme has only peaceful aims.

The IAEA suspects that Iran has conducted explosives tests in a steel chamber at Parchin relevant for the development of nuclear weapons, possibly a decade ago, and that it may have tried to cleanse the site in recent months.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, said Iran had “pre-conditions” for an agency visit to Parchin.

“One of our principles is that security issues should be completely observed, and any steps taken should be taken with our management,” said Soltanieh, speaking on the sidelines of the NAM summit, according to the Mehr news agency.

He did not elaborate, but his choice of words suggested Iran would seek tight control over any IAEA visit to Parchin.

Soltanieh also referred to Iran’s demands for access to IAEA documents underpinning the agency’s concerns about possible military dimensions to Tehran’s atomic activity.