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UN nuclear report wrongfoots Iran summit: analysts

01 september 2012, 10:52
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (L). ©AFP
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (L). ©AFP
Iran's hopes of boosting its international prestige by hosting a Non-Aligned summit this week were tripped up by a critical new UN nuclear watchdog report, AFP reports citing analysts.

The event, however, "enabled Iran to show it still has friends and trade partners despite international efforts to isolate it," one analyst, Dina Esfandiary of Britain's International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP.

Iranian officials and state media had hailed the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit on Thursday and Friday, with its 120 member states, as a diplomatic coup over the United States and its Western allies which have imposed economic sanctions and been leaning on other nations to treat Iran as a pariah.

Smack in the middle of it though, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report on Iran that recorded an increase in the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges.

And it said a clean-up at a suspect military base in Parchin had "hampered" IAEA inspectors' ability to determine whether explosives tests for warheads had taken place.

That paired with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Tehran telling summit delegates and Iranian leaders that they had to comply with IAEA and UN resolutions, or else Iran faced being excluded from the international community and even risked war from Israel or the United States.

"Sometimes the timing of international summits make all the difference, and this was one of those occasions," said Mark Hibbs, a senior nuclear issues analyst at the Carnegie Endowment.

"Iran opened by declaring that its peaceful nuclear programme was the victim of a P5 (UN Security Council) conspiracy, but that narrative ran aground on the IAEA’s finding -- announced right in the middle of the meeting -- that Iran has prevented the IAEA from doing its work."

That, and Ban's remarks, meant "Iran didn’t win this round," he said.

The Islamic republic was further embarrassed by statements from Ban condemning its leaders' anti-Israel remarks, and by him and Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsi -- whom Iran has been reaching out to -- strongly criticising the Syrian regime, a staunch ally of Iran.

Esfandiary, though, said "Iran knew that it would inevitably get some bad press" from those high-profile invitees.

"But Iran judged the benefits of the PR coup to outweigh the negatives. Iran will, for example, play on its tolerance for criticism and its ability to make friends despite differences and detract attention from the release of the IAEA report," she said.

Alireza Nader, a senior analyst at the US group Rand Corp, said: "I don’t think NAM really enhances Iran’s regional or international position in the long term.

"It may boost the Iranian regime’s image for a little while, but Iran faces a fundamental clash of interests with other NAM states."

Supporting that argument, Nader pointed to Morsi's speech and the decision by major NAM power India to cut back its purchases of Iranian oil in line with US sanctions.

"The NAM summit will not erase pressures the regime faces due to its violation of international norms and its repressive behaviour at home," he said.


By Marc Burleigh

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