* Iran in diplomatic spotlight as it hosts global summit
* Says U.S. policies have failed to isolate it
* Over 30 heads of state, UN chief to attend Tehran meeting
* Syria could expose divisions between members
By Marcus George
DUBAI, Aug 24 Iran hopes to earn diplomatic
kudos over the coming week as it hosts a summit of 120
developing nations, but any jubilation could turn sour over
starkly different views on the bloody conflict in Syria.
The Islamic Republic's three-year tenure as head of the
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which starts on Sunday, is a chance
for Tehran to elevate its international standing as the United
States seeks to cripple its economy and isolate it
diplomatically over its disputed nuclear programme.
Although many analysts say the movement, set up in 1961 to
counter big power domination of international relations, has
waned since the end of the Cold War, the diplomatic spotlight
will give Tehran an opportunity to show Washington has failed to
cut it off from the rest of the world.
"Hosting the conference is Iran's way of breaking the
diplomatic embargo," said Vali Nasr, dean of the School of
Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Around 35 heads of state or government are attending from
the movement's wide membership that stretches from developing
giants such as India to tiny Caribbean islands.
The guest list includes new Egyptian President Mohammad
Mursi - the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran since its
Islamic revolution in 1979.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also
attend, resisting diplomatic pressure to boycott the event After
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his view that Israel is a
"cancerous tumour" that had no place in the Middle
Both are expected to attend an address by Iran's most
powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"The Iranians love a stage. If they handle it diplomatically
they will at least bask in the reflected glory," said Ali Ansari
of St Andrews University in Scotland.
As host, Iran will prepare the first draft of the meeting's
final declaration, likely to include statements affirming its
right to peaceful nuclear technology, condemnation of Israeli
military threats against it and censure of Israel's occupation
of Palestinian lands.
"Hosting and chairing NAM has a lot of benefits. It's the
basis for continuing political influence over a significant
group of developing nations for three years," said Professor
Peter Willetts of City University. "The host always has key
influence over the starting point for discussions."
Where that may differ is on the issue of Syria, Iran's chief
ally in the region in its "axis of resistance" against Israel,
Sunni Arab states and their Western backers.
DISSENT ON SYRIA
Willetts' analysis of a U.N. General Assembly vote on Aug. 3
condemning the Syrian government's use of force against its own
people showed that 70 of the 120 NAM members voted in favour and
only 8 voted with Syria, Iran, China and Russia.
"Given NAM members have a long history of opposing
interference the internal affairs of developing countries, this
is an extraordinary demonstration of the revulsion felt by the
majority towards the violence in Syria," he said.
"Iran will be very embarrassed in its domestic politics if
they have to host an event that ends up condemning the Syrian
Another source of embarrassment could spring from
Ahmadinejad who has a record of using international events to
make firebrand, anti-Israeli speeches.
"The supreme leader (Khamenei) should hope that Ahmadinejad
doesn't sink Iran's diplomatic ship with his loose talk at this
rare and important opportunity," said Meir Javedanfar, an
Iranian-born analyst based in Israel.
Western governments do not expect Iran's turn in the
diplomatic limelight to bring it too many rewards. "The risk is
if we get to excited about the event and give more kudos to it
than it really deserves," a Western diplomat told Reuters.
Last week, the U.S. State Department appeared to play up the
influence of the summit, saying Iran was not "deserving" of the
role as host and would try to "manipulate participants".
The diplomat said any such move may backfire on Iran.
"It may succumb to the temptation to use the movement for
its own purposes and cause massive dysfunctionalism in the
organisation. Moderate members won't want NAM to be hijacked,"
"DAM AGAINST THE US"
There is little doubt that Iran wants to reconstruct NAM
into a more muscular political tool. Iranian media have been
full of announcements from officials saying Tehran would breathe
new life into it to challenge "Western domination".
Iran's tenure as chairman of the movement has been described
locally as "a show of power against global arrogance" and a
"strong dam against the U.S.".
Iran also aims to promote culture and tourism to the more
than 7,000 delegates. According to one official, Tehran's
businesses will cash in on $50 million in extra business.
Authorities have announced a week's holiday to minimize
Tehran's choking traffic and have spruced up areas where events
will be held.
But some Iranians are not impressed. "Some of us are
concerned about the expense of the summit at a time of severe
recession in Iran," said an unemployed journalist who declined
to be named.
An Iranian blogger told Reuters he had noticed a bigger
police presence at night. "We'll spend most of the time with
friends partying because we're sure no police will bother
raiding parties," he said. "They'll be occupied enough with
security at the summit."