Usually dismissed by the West as a Cold War relic, the Non-Aligned Movement attracted more interest than before with its 16th summit in Tehran last week. Both the venue and the turmoil in member-state Syria, where the Assad regime has been a close friend of Iran, gave this summit added significance. But if the United States was hoping the meet would lay bare the isolation of Iran, end in a quarrel over Syria, and expose NAM as an irrelevance, it must have been disappointed. Iran’s biggest international conference in several years drew a full house, including Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states also sent representatives. And despite pressure by the U.S and Israel not to attend, the United Nations Secretary-General was present too. It’s another matter that both President Morsi, who described the Assad regime as an “occupation” of Syria, and Ban-ki Moon, who asked Iran to comply with U.N. demands or face isolation, did not play music in President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad’s ears. Still Iran came out looking better than it had before. For an Israel straining at the leash, this should be sufficient discouragement against any adventurism. Further, while western efforts to effect regime change in Syria have divided the world, and NAM’s members hold independent positions on the situation there, this did not affect the summit’s determination to press for equitable ‘global governance’ — diplomatic argot for an international order more representative than the present Security Council.
For India, the summit was an important occasion to send out two timely messages. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that external intervention in Syria would only lead to more problems for that country, and that a solution had to come from within, was New Delhi’s clearest statement of differences with the U.S. on this issue. India had voted for a UNSC resolution calling for sanctions against Syria in July, but abstained from a General Assembly resolution that included a reference to an Arab League demand for President Assad to step down. Second, Dr. Singh’s meetings with the Iranian leadership were an opportunity to demonstrate that New Delhi’s relations with Tehran would not be dictated by the U.S. Ever since the U.S stepped up its pressure on the nuclear front by threatening sanctions against countries buying Iranian oil, India has walked a fine balance between the two countries. The talks focussed on improving economic relations; Iran recommitted to facilitating the Chabahar route for India-Afghan trade. Foreign relations are not the zero sum game some powers would like it to be. India and Iran must now follow up with quick action on the ground.