Non-Aligned Movement Defines New Purpose

Diplomats from countries affiliated with the Non-Aligned Movement met for a summit in Havana last week. The organization, formed during the Cold War, was originally intended to represent nations that were not aligned with either the U.S. or the Soviet Union. Now it is partly a vehicle for countries challenging the U.S.

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In this country this week, President Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly - that's an institution of which his administration is openly skeptical. His audience will include diplomats from many nations that are equally skeptical of the Bush administration. Many are part of the non-aligned movement, the same group that met last week in Havana. Their group was founded to stay neutral during the Cold War. It is now an alliance of poor and underdeveloped nations, and many say they want to present a united front against the United States.

Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN: When the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union divided the world, the idea of non-alignment meant independence. It still does, but with the United States the only superpower left, the non-aligned movement has increasingly become that group of countries that wants to stand up against Washington. Among the stars of the Havana summit were the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, both of whom seem to delight in tormenting the Bush administration. The head of the so-called Europe Group in the non-aligned movement is Belarus, an outcast among its European neighbors because of its authoritarian government. And then there was the summit host country, Cuba. With Fidel Castro still hospitalized, his brother Raul presided.

Mr. RAUL CASTRO (Acting President, Cuba): (Spanish spoken)

GJELTEN: In recent years, Raul Castro said, several of our countries have been victims of inadmissible acts of aggression motivated by the insatiable appetite for strategic resources.

After Raul Castro came Hugo Chavez, who has lately been promoting the idea of uniting all the countries that have quarrels with the United States.

Mr. HUGO CHAVEZ (President of Venezuela): (Spanish spoken)

GJELTEN: It's necessary for us to merge all our movements, ideologies, governments, and peoples, so that we can fight together for a truly just international order, Chavez said.

Chavez has actually given far harsher speeches against the United States than the one he delivered at this forum. Hard-line U.S. adversaries still constitute a minority of the 118 members of the non-aligned movement. A recurring theme at the summit was cooperation among the underdeveloped countries, and the spirit was collegial.

The leaders of Pakistan and India meeting on the sidelines of the summit agreed to resume peace talks. Iraq, a founding member of the non-aligned movement, was represented by its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Rafi al-Issawi, who said his country considered itself a friend of the United States. Al-Issawi said he wanted other countries at the summit to have some appreciation of what Iraq was going through.

Mr. RAFI AL-ISSAWI (Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Iraq): First of all, we explain the current situation of Iraq to the summit. And we suppose that this big number of 118 states will support Iraq regarding their political process regarding their war against terrorism (unintelligible).

GJELTEN: Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose government was the outgoing leader of the non-aligned movement, had some words of advice for those countries who came to Havana just to denounce the imperialist West.

He did understand, he said, that the movement provides a forum for those countries that feel their voice is not often heard.

Prime Minister ABDULLAH AHMAD BADAWI (Prime Minister, Malaysia): We must, however, not allow it to be merely a talking shop, or a talk shop. We should not be long on rhetoric but short in action.

GJELTEN: According to a Latin American diplomat who did not wish to be quoted by name, the final summit declaration was actually toned down at the insistence of the more moderate members of the movement. The Iraq delegation got some of what it was looking for. The declaration praised the formation of the new Iraqi government, supported its efforts to achieve security, and condemned, quote, "the acts of terrorism directed against the infrastructure of the country."

The non-aligned countries sided with Iran, however, in its standoff with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program. For Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Havana was the first stop on his way to the general assembly meeting in New York, where he'll undoubtedly face pressure from the United States and other Security Council members to suspend uranium enrichment activities. But Ahmadinejad will show up in New York with his own agenda - to make the U.N. friendlier to the non-aligned countries. He spoke at the summit through an interpreter.

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through interpreter) The non-aligned movement should request the modification of the membership of the Security Council, which constitutes a challenge for security in the world. The Security Council, with the presence of superpowers such as the United States and the UK, has never protected peace and security in the world.

GJELTEN: Ahmadinejad's partner in this effort is Hugo Chavez, who is pushing for his country to get one of the rotating seats on the Security Council. Chavez spent much of his time at the summit lobbying other leaders to support Venezuela's bid when the selection of the new Security Council comes up for a vote this week.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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