TEHRAN: Iran on Monday was deploying formidable security around a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting preparing for a summit later this week that Tehran is determined to use to bolster its international status.
Some 110,000 police have been dispatched around the country, many of them to man street corners and suddenly ubiquitous vehicle inspection points in the capital.
The heavy uniformed presence underlined the authorities' intent to ensure nothing upsets an event that Iran is portraying as a diplomatic coup against US-led pressure.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is expected to reinforce that message when he opens the two-day NAM summit on Thursday.
NAM officials from some 100 countries were on Monday forging through a second day of preparations for the summit. Foreign ministers were to take over on Tuesday for another two days of finessing the details.
The summit itself will see heads of state and government from more than 30 countries taking part, alongside lower-ranking officials from the rest of the NAM members, according to the Iranian organisers.
The NAM, a Cold War grouping founded in 1961, has 120 members that represent most of the developing world and which see themselves as independent of Washington and Moscow influence.
Although the organisation had increasingly been seen as an anachronism in the past couple of decades, Iran seeks to revive it as a counterweight to perceived domineering by permanent UN Security Council members Britain, France, China, Russia and — especially — the United States.
“We share the concern of many members that the UN Security Council has increasing power in the face of decreasing power in the (UN) General Assembly,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Sunday as he opened the NAM preparatory meetings. He backed a longstanding call for reform of the Security Council.
---- Syria a key issue ----
Delegations at the NAM summit in Tehran, however, were likely to have their attention focused on more pressing issues, chiefly Syria.
The vicious, 17-month conflict tearing Iran's ally apart has confounded several diplomatic quests to find a solution.
Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, is to make another stab during the summit by talking with Iranian officials about his idea of a contact group on Syria.
Its members would include Iran — which backs the Damascus regime — and Saudi Arabia and Turkey — which support the Syrian opposition.
“If this group succeeds, Iran would be part of the solution and not the problem,” Morsi's spokesman Yassir Ali told reporters on Sunday.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not be going to Tehran for the summit, according to the chairman of the Iranian parliament's foreign policy commission, Aladin Borujerdi, who saw him in Damascus on Sunday.
Instead Assad would send his prime minister and foreign minister, Borujerdi told Iranian state broadcaster IRIB.
But Assad said “he would welcome efforts Iran can make to solve Syria's problems,” on condition that countries supporting Syria's rebels “exert pressure on them to stop the bloodshed and violence,” Borujerdi said.
Morsi's presence on Thursday would also be notable in that it would be the first by an Egyptian leader to Iran since diplomatic relations were broken in 1979, after Cairo hosted Iran's toppled shah and signed a peace accord with Israel.
But Ali said Morsi's visit in Tehran would last just “a few hours” and “no other subject is expected” to be broached, specifically any concerning the resumption of diplomatic ties. Iran's defence of the Palestinian cause was also certain to be raised.
Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have repeatedly called Israel a “cancerous tumour” that should be excised from the Middle East, with “Palestine” replacing it.
But in a gesture of political expediency, Iran on Sunday stated the only Palestinian representative invited to the summit was Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
It specifically excluded Abbas's Gaza rival, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, who subsequently said he had decided to not attend despite being invited by Ahmadinejad. Iran is also keen to use the summit to gather support for its nuclear programme, which is the source of a fraught showdown between it and the West.
Pointedly, at the entrance of the NAM preparatory meeting, organisers have placed the bomb-damaged cars of three Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated in Tehran in the past couple of years in attacks Iran blames on US, Israeli and British intelligence services.
Salehi on Sunday said he expected the summit to voice support for Iran's “legitimate rights” to nuclear activities.
He also said the summit “should seriously confront unilateral sanctions of certain nations against some members of the NAM,” referring largely to Western economic sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue.