How Iran Covered the NAM Summit

By: Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi – Sep 4, 2012 – AL MONITOR

The reformist daily newspaper Etemaad covered in some detail the story of how Mohammed Morsi’s criticisms of Syria have been marginalized in official depictions of the Egyptian president’s NAM speech. Etemaad, in stark contrast to other domestic media, also reported the Syrian prime minister’s walking out of the conference hall in protest of Morsi’s criticism of the Assad regime.

The Iranian organizers of NAM tried their utmost to frame Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech as the centerpiece of the summit, and the country’s political as well as military ruling elite were in attendance. Prominent reformist politicians were noticeably absent.

In his speech (in Farsi), which took pride of place on the pages of the domestic media and across the entirety of the political spectrum, Khamenei proclaimed that “the control room of the world should not be managed by the dictatorial will of a few Western countries.” Like all the other Iranian politicians who spoke at NAM, he emphasized the need for a fundamental restructuring of the UN Security Council.

Recently back from Damascus, Alaoddin Boroujerdi, head of the Majles’ National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told Fars News of the enthusiastic reception of Khamenei’s speech: “In every international summit the Leader is present, out of respect the whole of the audience rises to its feet. This is indicative of his spiritual place in the world.”

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also proudly reported as kissing Khamenei’s hands as he entered the auditorium to deliver his speech.

In an interview with Fars News, Ali Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister (1981-1997) and advisor to the Supreme Leader for international affairs, said that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had addressed Ayatollah Khamenei in their highly publicized meeting as “the religious leader of the Islamic world.” That claim has since been rejected by the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson.

In his meeting with Ban Ki-moon, and as reported by Fars News, Khamenei showed that at least publicly, he is still firmly behind the Assad regime, stressing the necessity of “preventing arms being sent to irresponsible groups as a prerequisite for solving the crisis.”

Hossein Sheikholeslam, advisor on international affairs to the Majles (parliament) speaker, in an interview with Mehr news agency, criticized Mohammed Morsi for his “delay” in handing over the NAM presidency to Iran, stating, “Unfortunately, Mr. Morsi didn’t have the necessary maturity for organizing the NAM leaders’ meeting and has made a mess of the program and order of the summit.” He added, “even though the Islamic Republic of Iran has a lot to say on Syria, [the Supreme Leader] didn’t mention it, because Syria is a subject of contention between NAM members … we witnessed Mohammed Morsi, the president of Egypt, as president of NAM, perpetrate a big error and exit from the basic principle of NAM, as he only stated the position of Egypt, when as president of NAM he should only have announced NAM’s positions.”

Iranian leaders insisted Iran is not isolated, despite unprecedented Western sanctions, and would remain defiant in the pursuit of its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Salehi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, President Ahmadinejad and, most importantly, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, reiterated time and again that Iran would not compromise on its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

As reported by Khabar Online, Majles speaker Ali Larijani touted NAM as a victory, claiming, “after NAM, Western powers know their status.”

Etemaad reported on Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi’s bargaining on the sidelines of the summit to wrangle oil deals. According to the newspaper’s writeup, India was at the top of the list as Iran tries its utmost to counter the precipitous decline of oil revenues in recent months.

Ahmadinejad did not seek to use his speech at the summit to score points domestically, but restated past calls for a new world order predicated on “friendship, fraternity and love.”

As reported by the hardline Mashregh News, Ahmadinejad in his NAM speech contended, “fortunately, today we stand at a historic juncture. The Marxist regime has dissolved and the imperious capitalist regime has reached the end of the road, and its historical time has ended.” He added, “The present managers of the world are the same slave owners of the past who are after the permanent domination of others, and the debasement of nations and the strangulation of their rights.”

The new president was no doubt aware that the regime as a whole has banked a lot on this summit, as a means of projecting power regionally and internationally in the face of declining oil revenues and ongoing economic turbulence. 

According to Kalemeh, affiliated with the Green Movement and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, an estimate $600 million was spent on the summit, including $60 million on Mercedes-Benz cars to shuttle around foreign dignities.

Etemaad also took a not-so-subtle dig at the government when covering Ban Ki-moon’s speech, quoting the Secretary General as saying, “I want to encourage all to listen to the voice of their own people.”

Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi was formerly Iran researcher at the Oxford Research Group’s (ORG) Middle East programme and taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a doctoral candidate in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Queen’s College, University of Oxford. Follow him on Twitter @eborujerdi.