So what does Iran get out of its chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a Cold War-era body that has frequently been dismissed by Western pundits as a relic of a bygone era?
For one thing: a ready-made constituency of 120 countries -- many of them close U.S. allies like Chile, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- supporting Iranian policies on a range of issues, from its pursuit of nuclear self-sufficiency to efforts to rally international opposition to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities.
Iran's chairmanship of the body, which will last three years, is also undercutting efforts by the United States, European powers, and Israel to isolate the Iranian government, a fact that was driven home by the participation of key leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsy, at the NAM summit in Tehran last month. (To be fair, Ban used the occasion to criticize the Iranians, while Morsy blasted Iran's close ally, Syria, for repressing his people.)
Today, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, delivered a statement on behalf of the NAM at a high-level U.N. meeting on countering nuclear terrorism that underscored states' rights to nuclear power, proposed the creation of a treaty prohibiting military strikes on nuclear energy programs, and demanded Israel "renounce possession of nuclear weapons" and submit its secret, undeclared, program to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The speech repeated many longstanding positions by the Non-Aligned Movement, which exercises considerable influence over U.N. debates.
But its delivery by a high-ranking Iranian official lent additional weight to Tehran's case that efforts by the United States and other world powers to rein in Iran's nuclear program could be used against others. Iran, which is the target of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it cease its enrichment of uranium, claims its nuclear activities are allowed by the landmark Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The IAEA, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the NPT, has expressed serious concerns about Iran's nuclear activities, citing a pattern of withholding critical evidence of their nuclear activities and failing to fully cooperate with efforts to investigate reports that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. The agency recently raised concern that Iran has sharply stepped up enrichment activities in breach of Security Council resolutions.
Salehi's speech also posed an indirect challenge to Israel to hold off any military attack on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran claims is used solely for the production of electricity, but which Israel insists is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.
"NAM reaffirms the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities -- in operation or under construction -- constitutes a grave violation of international law, and purposes of the UN Charter and regulations of the IAEA," Salehi told the New York gathering. "NAM recognizes the urgent need for a comprehensive multilaterally negotiated instrument prohibiting attacks or threat of attacks on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful uses of nuclear energy."
The statement also included a broadside against the U.N. Security Council, which has adopted numerous resolutions demanding Iran halt nuclear activities that are not expressively prohibited by the NPT. The Iranian gambit plays on broader resentment at the United Nations against the Security Council, which has been accused of overreaching and seeking to impose constraints on countries nuclear energy programs that are permissible under international treaty.
"NAM underlines the need to ensure that any action by the Security Council does not undermine the UN Charter and existing multilateral treaties on weapons of mass destruction," said Salehi.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.