Bulk of UN Member States to Back Iran's Nuclear Position

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - As the U.N. Security Council continues searching for ways to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff, Tehran looked set later Tuesday to win a fresh pledge of support for its "right" to enrich uranium from the world's developing nations.

Foreign ministers from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), meeting in Malaysia, were expected to issue a declaration drafted earlier in support for Iran's ostensibly civilian nuclear program.

On Monday, NAM chairman and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi urged the grouping to back Tehran, accusing the West of nuclear double standards.

"Allowing Israel to develop nuclear weapons with impunity -- which it does not deny -- while others in the region are prohibited from doing so, is a blatant case of double standard," he told the ministers.

"We must recognize Iran's right to develop such technology for peaceful purposes."

NAM's 115 sovereign members -- the 116th is "Palestine" -- comprise more than 60 percent of the world's nations and, often in collaboration with permanent Security Council member China, wield considerable influence as a bloc at the U.N.

The grouping includes most of the world's most repressive regimes, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Iran, as well as some close U.S. allies, such as Singapore and the Philippines.

With NAM backing, China and fellow permanent council member Russia have consistently impeded efforts by the U.S. and its European allies to take firmer action against Iran over activities the West strongly suspects are a front for a nuclear weapons program.

The latest bid to defuse the crisis -- an E.U. offer of inducements in exchange for Tehran halting the controversial work -- appeared to go the way of all earlier efforts when Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday again emphasized his country's right to enrich uranium.

Asked about the incentive plan, Mottaki said in Malaysia: "The main incentive for Iran is to recognize the essential right of Iran to have nuclear technology and the ways of realizing this right."

Abdullah's speech to the NAM ministers was one of the last from the Malaysian leader before his country hands over the group's three-year chairmanship to Cuba at a heads-of-state meeting in September.

His rebuke of the West over Iran was uncharacteristically strong language from Abdullah, whose speech appeared designed to galvanize the bloc into making a greater impact in world affairs.

He complained about what he called "a tendency to resort to unilateral action in international relations ... of working outside the ambit of the United Nations when the sanction of the Security Council could not be obtained."

It was imperative that the NAM bloc opposed that trend, which threatened to undermine the U.N.'s authority, he said.

A draft of the NAM statement of support for Iran said the nuclear issue should be dealt with by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Other countries -- an apparent reference to the U.S. and its allies -- should not interfere with the nuclear watchdog's work, it said.

While both the outgoing and incoming chairmen, Malaysia and Cuba, vocally supported Iran, some NAM member governments reportedly differed with some of the wording in the statement during closed-door discussions.

India's stance on the Iranian issue has been especially closely watched, given its size, influence in the developing world, and its own nuclear weapons status.

The Indian government has come under strong pressure, both from Iran and from left-wing coalition partners, not to side with the West against Iran. At the same time, lawmakers in Washington have pressed India to take a firm stance against Tehran, particularly at a time India and the U.S. are themselves developing major new nuclear technology ties.

India voted against Iran at the IAEA last September and again in February, when the IAEA voted to refer Iran to the Security Council.

Iran hid its nuclear program from the international community for almost two decades until it was exposed by a regime critic in 2002.

It insists the work is purely aimed at generating electrical power; Western governments question that claim, pointing to Tehran's secrecy and asking why the world's fourth largest oil-producer needs nuclear power.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow