(CNSNews.com) – Responsible democracies should withdraw from an organization that deems Iran to be an appropriate chairman, a senior Republican lawmaker said Tuesday as the Non-Aligned Movement kicked off its triennial summit in Tehran.
Iran is assuming the rotating presidency of the 120-member organization for the next three years, after being elected by the body at its last summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in 2009.
NAM, formed as a bloc of supposedly non-aligned developing nations during the Cold War, does not have a permanent secretariat, so the country elected to lead it plays a key role in setting its agenda. The chair also coordinates its activity at the United Nations, where owing to its size it wields considerable clout in the General Assembly.
Controversy has swirled in recent weeks over U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to accept Tehran’s invitation to participate in the summit, but Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also turned attention onto other repressive regimes among NAM’s members.
“Judging from its new leader, Iran, and its membership, it is clear the Non-Aligned Movement is an alliance of extremists, flagrant human rights abusers, and purveyors of hate,” she said in a statement.
“The Iranian regime’s anti-freedom agenda will fit nicely with fellow NAM members like Kim’s North Korea, Assad’s Syria, Chavez’s Venezuela, Cuba under the Castro brothers, and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, who all continue to oppress their own citizens while spreading messages of hate and engaging in activities that threaten global peace and security.”
(Cuba has twice before headed NAM, in 1979-1983 and 2006-2009 while Zimbabwe was chair in 1986-1989. Venezuela is expected to take over from Iran in 2015.)
Ros-Lehtinen then appealed to other countries, implying that they do not belong in such a group.
“NAM members who identify themselves as democratic, responsible nations should distance themselves from this organization which has clearly become a tool for rogue regimes to advance their oppressive agendas,” she said.
Among the more prominent democracies that are also members of NAM are India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore in Asia; Chile, Colombia and Peru in Latin America; and South Africa and Nigeria in Africa.
Other countries in NAM with longstanding close ties to the United States include Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all of which are U.S.-designated “major non-NATO allies.”
Some of these countries will be represented in Tehran at the highest level of government, despite the U.S. State Department’s comment last week that “we frankly don’t think that Iran is deserving of these high-level presences that are going there.”
Indian Prime Minister Manhoman Singh arrived in Tehran Tuesday accompanied by a large delegation, paying the first visit by an Indian head of government in more than a decade. India played a key role in establishing NAM more than half a century ago.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi are also among heads of state or government attending.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the U.S. has been encouraging countries “to downgrade their representation” at the Tehran summit.
It had also conveyed the message that if countries did decide to attend, then they should bring up with the host government concerns about “Iran’s unfulfilled obligations, their nuclear [activities], their human rights, the concerns we have about their support for terror, the concerns we have about what they’re up to in Syria.”
As Ban headed to Tehran on Tuesday, U.S. spokesman Farhan Haq said the secretary-general planned to bring up “the clear concerns and expectations of the international community on the issues for which cooperation and progress are urgent for regional stability and the welfare of the Iranian people. These include Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria.”
Apart from attending the summit, Haq said Ban also planned to hold meetings with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.