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This week, Iran hosts a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. That's a large group of nations formed during the Cold War to mark their independence from the U.S. and the Soviet bloc. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived today and U.N. officials say he conveyed international concerns directly to Iranian leaders. But others, including the U.S. and Israel, argue his visit plays into the Iranians' hands. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: While some see this summit as a diplomatic coup for Iran, Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace doesn't think it will be a lasting success. Countries that are part of the Non-Aligned Movement, he says, have mostly cut back economic ties with Iran in order to remain on better terms with the West.
KARIM SADJADPOUR: They may show up in Tehran for a five-day summit of free food and non-alcoholic drink, but ultimately I don't think that this Non-Aligned Summit is going to recruit anyone to Tehran's side.
KELEMEN: But Tehran is trying to change its image in the world. While the U.S. calls it a major exporter of terrorism, Iran is portraying itself as the victim of terrorism. Near the entrance of the summit, the Iranians have put on display the wreckage of several cars destroyed in bomb attacks that killed or wounded nuclear scientists. And on the nuclear issue, Iran does have a sympathetic audience, says David Bosco, who teaches at American University's School of International Service.
DAVID BOSCO: There's a diversity of viewpoints about Iran's particular program. But when Iran tries to frame this confrontation as, you know, this is unfair, this is the powerful countries telling less powerful countries we can't have nuclear programs, that's something that resonates with a lot of Non-Aligned members.
KELEMEN: Bosco, who writes The Multilateralist blog for Foreign Policy magazine, says the Non-Aligned Movement has been a fixture on the international scene since the Cold War, so he was not surprised that the U.N. Secretary-General ignored the U.S. and decided to attend.
BOSCO: The Non-Aligned Movement represents 120 states, and that is a very large constituency within the U.N. General Assembly. And the U.N. secretary-general responds ultimately to all the U.N. member-states and not just to the most powerful.
KELEMEN: But some members of Congress were furious with the decision. Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen describes the Non-Aligned Movement as a tool for rogue regimes, and says Ban's attendance is only encouraging the despots. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky, who's traveling with the secretary-general, says Ban believes in the power of dialogue and engagement. And he says the U.N. chief conveyed international concerns about human rights, Syria, and Iran's nuclear program in talks with Iran's president and with the country's supreme leader.
MARTIN NESIRSKY: He said that Iran needed to take concrete steps to address the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and prove to the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
KELEMEN: Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment is skeptical that Ban's efforts will pay off.
SADJADPOUR: He's issued some pretty strong statements about Iran's rhetoric vis-à-vis Israel, its support for the Syrian regime. I don't think this Non-Aligned summit is going to have any impact, though, on Iran's foreign policy behavior.
KELEMEN: Take, for instance, Syria. Many Non-Aligned members voted for a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters. Egypt's new president had hoped to use his visit to Iran, the first by an Egyptian head of state since the Iranian Revolution, to encourage Iran to help resolve the crisis in Syria.
But Sadjadpour says Iran is determined to stand by Assad.
SADJADPOUR: The graveyard of international diplomacy is littered with failed overtures toward Iran.
KELEMEN: Sadjadpour also thinks Iran will fail, as it tries to turn the Non-Aligned Movement into, as he put it, an axis of resistance against the U.S.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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