A two-day Non-Aligned Movement summit opened in Tehran on Thursday, gathering the heads of state or government and senior officials from 120 nations in an event Iran hailed as proof it was not internationally isolated.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was to address the delegations along with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who was handing the rotating NAM presidency over to Iran.
State television showed the summit venue, located in a heavily secured district in northern Tehran, packed with representatives from much of the developing world.
Leaders included the presidents of Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Palestinian Authority, and the emir of Qatar.
The prime ministers of India, Iraq and Syria were also present.
North Korea was represented by its ceremonial head of state, parliamentary president Kim Yong-Nam, rather than the country’s leader Kim Jong-Un.
In all, 29 of the 120 nations in the NAM meeting were represented by heads of state or government. The other three-quarters were represented by senior officials: vice presidents, deputy prime ministers, foreign ministers and envoys.
The leaders of some countries who had been expected by Iran to show up for the summit — Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Ghana and Kuwait — did not make it for the opening.
The NAM, born at the height of the Cold War, started out as a group of nations seeing themselves as independent of the two power blocs centred on Washington and Moscow.
Since then, it has become a vehicle for championing the interests of developing states, calling for UN reform to limit the powers of the UN Security Council, promoting a Palestinian state, and condemning Western sanctions on some of its members, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe.
Iran, which is subject to intense Western pressure over its disputed nuclear programme, was keen to portray the meeting as evidence it was not the pariah the United States has made it out to be.
It especially highlighted the summit attendance of Morsi and UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
With Morsi’s appearance, it was the first time a leader of Egypt has set foot in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The two countries broke off diplomatic ties that year, after Cairo signed a peace accord with Iran’s arch-foe Israel.
Ban’s presence had been criticised by Israel and the United States. But the UN chief used pre-summit meetings with Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to take them to task over their recent anti-Israel rhetoric, and their country’s uranium enrichment activities in defiance of several UN resolutions.