'Non-Aligned' Nations Bicker Over Iraq, North Korea

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The Non-Aligned Movement's heads of state began their summit in Kuala Lumpur Monday after a weekend of wrangling by ministers who were unable to see eye-to-eye on Iraq, North Korea or terrorism.

Even the question of Israel, traditionally a unifying factor among the developing nations comprising NAM, prompted some debate this time around.

The organizers of the summit had hoped the 116-nation grouping would come up with a cohesive stance on the issues dominating world affairs, but disputes over terminology and substance have resulted in watered-down draft declarations.

The documents to be endorsed by the leaders will, nonetheless, take the U.S. to task over using force to resolve the conflict with NAM member Iraq, according to reports from the summit.

"The heads of state or government rejected the use, or the threat of use, of armed forces against any NAM country under the pretext of combating terrorism," says the draft.

Had pro-Iraq members had their way, the draft would have been far stronger, offering full support and solidarity with Saddam Hussein and demanding an end to sanctions.

But members like Kuwait and Singapore pushed for the declaration not to overtly support Saddam or omit the need for Baghdad to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding that it disarm.

"We would just like it to be more balanced," Singapore's foreign minister, Prof. S. Jayakumar, said of the proposed wording.

The outcome came as something of a blow to host Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who takes over the NAM chairmanship at the summit and also soon assumes the chairmanship of another international body, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Mahathir had been pushing for a resolution highly critical of the U.S.

He told a parallel business forum on Sunday that an invasion of Iraq would be regarded as a war against Muslims, not against terrorism, and could lead to further acts of terrorism.

For its part, Iraq wants the movement to flex its muscle to prevent war.

"Third World countries have lots of means to stop the war," Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told reporters. "Oil and many other means can be used."

Along with Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian question exercised the ministers at the weekend.

Forty of the NAM's members are Muslim nations who fall under the OIC. They include some of Israel's most bitter foes, including Syria, Iraq, Iran and "Palestine" - the only non-sovereign entity to have full rather than observer membership in the NAM.

A stand-alone NAM leaders' statement on the Mideast conflict will echo Palestinians' allegations about Israeli "war crimes," and urge "legal remedies" - understood to be a reference to the newly-established International Criminal Court.

Arab nations originally wanted the statement to condemn "the war crimes and systematic human rights violations that have been committed by Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian people."

But critics pointed out that NAM wasn't legally qualified to declare Israeli actions "war crimes," and so the word "reported" was inserted in front of "war crimes" in the draft.

South Asian rivals disagree

NAM diplomats struggled to find common ground in another traditionally problematic area - the definition of terrorism.

All seven countries the U.S. State Department accuses of sponsoring terrorism - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba - are NAM members.

Bitter enemies India and Pakistan are both members as well, and their officials fought hard at the weekend for the draft declaration to use terminology supporting their view of the dispute.

India, which accuses Pakistan of sponsoring or colluding in terrorism by Islamic extremists fighting to end Indian rule in divided Kashmir, urged NAM ministers to unambiguously condemn "state-sponsored terrorism."

Pakistan, on the other hand, pressed for terms such as "liberation struggle" to be included in the text. Islamabad sees the Kashmir conflict as a legitimate fight for self-determination.

Hours of wrangling Sunday saw neither get its way, as the draft declaration looked set to exclude both terms.

Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal seemed unperturbed afterwards, saying his government realized it would be impossible to find consensus in such a forum, as every country had its own perspective on terrorism.

This year's summit is bringing together Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, although Indian officials have already ruled out any kind of talks between them.

What to do about the North Korean nuclear standoff was another sticking point for the NAM ministers.

NAM member state North Korea wanted the summit to blame the crisis on the U.S., but several other countries pushed for a declaration that would urge Pyongyang to reverse its decision to abandon the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In the end, another watered-down text merely noted North Korea's NPT withdrawal and called for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

The NAM was formed four decades ago as a loosely-linked group of countries claiming neutrality in the confrontation between the West and the Soviet bloc.

Its members are scattered across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

At this week's summit, Malaysia assumes the NAM chair from South Africa. Cuba has been chosen as host of the next leaders' gathering, in 2006, and the movement's next chair.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow