Tehran: Iran is to host some 30 leaders, including those of India, Egypt and Cuba, at an August 30-31 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that officials are billing as proof the Islamic republic is not as isolated as the West would like.
“So far, more than 100 countries have said they are ready to participate, and around 30 nations will be represented by presidents, prime ministers or vice-presidents, which is a very good number,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the ISNA news agency.
The Tehran summit, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, “is the greatest political summit in Iran’s history.”
The NAM, born at the height of the Cold War, brings together nations that consider themselves independent of the world’s major power blocs. The organisation counts a total 119 countries plus the Palestinian territories.
For Iran, the two-day meeting is an important opportunity to portray itself as part of the international scene despite concerted efforts by the United States and the European Union to isolate it diplomatically and economically over its disputed nuclear programme.
Up to 7,000 participants — delegates and media — are expected for the summit, an Iranian vice-president, Ali Saeedlou, was quoted as saying by ISNA. Their spending will bring in $50 million (Dh 183 million) for Iran, an official in the country’s tourism organisation, Manouchehr Jahanian, told the Iran newspaper.
Holding the event in Tehran is “a source of dignity,” another Iranian vice-president, Ebrahim Azizi, said according to the Mehr news agency.
“The world will see that the plots by the world arrogance [the United States] against our government are fruitless,” he said.
Iran is going all out in its hosting duties.
A five-day public holiday in Tehran has been called for the summit and its lead-up to clear the city of its stifling traffic and pollution.
Visa-free entry to Iran normally offered to nationals from Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Ecuador, Georgia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, Syria and Venezuela has been temporarily suspended.
Hospital staff have had vacations suspended. Parts of the capital have been beautified, with lamp posts and road markings freshly painted. Roads around the summit venue are to be blocked to all but official vehicles.
“The police are on full alert during the Non-Aligned Movement summit,” Iran’s deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying on the weekend. Security, he said, “is our duty and we are not joking about it.”
Iranian officials have not yet given the full guest list for the summit.
But leaders so far confirmed include Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi — making a landmark trip after Iran cut diplomatic ties with Egypt in 1979 following the Islamic revolution and Cairo’s peace deal with Israel — as well as Cuban leader Raul Castro and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
A North Korean leader will also be showing up, according to Salehi — but it will not be Kim Jong-un, the young chief of the reclusive Asian state, as one Iranian news outlet erroneously reported.
Instead it will be Kim Yong-nam, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, who acts as North Korea’s head of state in external matters.
Qatar’s emir, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman are also expected to show.
There was no word about representation from Syria, Iran’s close ally caught up in a civil war.
“It is possible that Syria may not be able to attend due to a management crisis,” Saeedlou told the Khabar-Online news website.
Iranian officials have invited the leaders of Russia, Turkey and the United Nations to attend the summit as non-member observers.
But Russia’s embassy in Tehran, quoted by ISNA, said Russian President Vladimir Putin would not make it and would be represented by a foreign ministry official instead.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has not yet said whether he will participate. His possible presence has been pre-emptively criticised by Israel as a “big mistake” and by the United States as “strange.”
Turkish President Abdullah Gul has not said whether he will show up.
Australia is reportedly sending two officials as observers: an envoy from Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office and its ambassador to the United Nations.