By Ray Chickrie
The 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit will be held in Tehran, Iran, from August 26 to 31. NAM is comprised of some 120 member states and 17 observer countries. Iran will assume the rotating presidency of the movement from Egypt for three years.
Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and is currently teaching in the Middle East
Iran sent its deputy foreign minister to Guyana and Suriname a month ago to invite the leaders of those countries to the upcoming summit. Guyana historically has been a major participant in the NAM forum and was host to a NAM foreign ministers meeting in 1972. Guyana attended all recent summits at the highest level -- Colombia, South Africa, and Cuba. However, the Malaysia and Egypt summits were attended at the foreign minister level.
Suriname, on the other hand, hasn’t taken NAM as seriously as Guyana and has hardly attended NAM Summits at the presidential level. Naturally, from this pattern, one can’t expect for certain Ramotar or Bouterse’s presence in Tehran in August. They may also succumb to the US/Sunni Arab alliance’s pressure and stay home.
This summit is going to be a unique one. Today, the United States has encircled Iran with massive military buildup in bases around Iran, in Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and in Turkmenistan. Besides that, the US and the EU at the request of Israel and due to the upcoming US national election, have put in place the most crippling sanctions any nation today faces, because they believe that Iran wants to assemble a nuclear bomb. So far there have been no proven facts that Iran wants to assemble a nuclear bomb and this is according to the United States and Israeli generals. The two countries have used their global clout to enforce harsh sanctions on the Iranian nation.
The United States is exerting tremendous pressure on world leaders not to attend this meeting and we will see the effect of this -- whether or not Bouterse and Ramotar bow out of the NAM Summit this August.
Another interesting development is the change of government in Egypt, which holds the current NAM presidency. Egypt is set to hand over the presidency to Iran but the two countries do not have diplomatic ties and it’s uncertain that President Morsi will travel to Tehran. Indications are that Morsi wants to change the political landscape of the Middle East by initiating diplomatic ties with Tehran and attend the NAM summit, but Riyadh may not approve this.
Iran’s ties with Guyana and Suriname have expanded to new levels. More recently, Iran donated $1.2 million to Suriname’s agricultural sector. Bouterse and Ahmadinejad met earlier this year in Nicaragua. Suriname, unlike Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad or Barbados, is less dependent on the United States for financial assistance and tourism, and there are strong indications that the left-leaning president in Paramaribo will attend the NAM Summit in Iran.
Georgetown may not want to publicize a visit by Ramotar to Iran, and hasn’t made a decision on the issue, according to its Foreign Minister, Carolyn Rodriguez-Birkett. Ramotar might remain home, unless he makes this part of a larger Middle East tour. It is perceived that Guyana snubbed Ahmadinejad during his frequent visits to South America by not inviting him to Georgetown. The fact is the former president of Guyana, Bharat Jagdeo, visited Iran at the invitation of the Iranian president in 2010 and with Ahmadinejadd so often in Venezuela, why not Guyana?
As Guyana and Suriname make strong efforts to solicit investments from Gulf nations, they are also concerned not to be perceived as too close to the Iranian regime by the Sunni gulf kingdoms and to get involved in the Shia/Sunni rivalry; especially that both Guyana and Suriname have significant Muslim populations. However, this should not prevent Ramotar and Bouterse from attending the NAM summit in Iran.
There will be Arab countries attending the summit. Kuwait for one is appreciative of Iran’s condemnation of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of their country and realizes that Iran has been a good neighbour and does not want to see any conflict emerge in the Gulf. It is not in the interest of Sunni gulf regimes to confront Iran or even allow their land to be used by the US to attack Iran. Such a move will ignite an uprising in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where large amount of Shias live.
To be expected in Iran are the presidents of South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua. India has confirmed Dr Manmohan Singh’s long awaited visit to Iran after 11 years by an Indian president. Most Sunni Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf region will stay home and send low level delegations.