Iran uses summit to buff up diplomatic credentials
DUBAI (Reuters) - With blanket official media coverage and graphic memorials to the "martyrs" of its nuclear program, Iran is using an international summit to assert that Western nations have failed to isolate it diplomatically and to present itself as a leading voice in the developing world.
The Non-Aligned Movement summit of 120 nations is being held at a time when Iran finds itself at odds with the West over Tehran's support for President Bashar al-Assad as he battles to crush insurgents in Syria, and over nuclear development work seen as leading to atomic weapons, something Iran denies.
In a symbolic display that may have startled some delegates, the charred remnants of vehicles that were blown up in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have been put on show outside the conference centre in Tehran.
The cars are propped up against a backdrop of rich scarlet fabric. Alongside are pictures of Iran's nuclear "martyrs" and summaries of how they were killed.
At least four scientists associated with Iran's nuclear program have been assassinated since 2010, most recently in January this year. Washington has denied any role in the killings while Israel has declined to comment.
"It's quite shocking. I was really taken aback," said one visiting delegate who initially couldn't understand why such wrecks had been placed outside.
The summit has dominated Iran's state-controlled media, which contend that the country's position as head of "the world's second largest international organization" is an effective response to international sanctions and a demonstration of its important place in world affairs.
The leadership has sought to present an air of importance as it takes on the mantle of an organization that many experts say has struggled to remain relevant since the end of the Cold War.
But there are concerns among some members of the movement that Tehran could try to use its position to influence to further its own agenda rather than that of the organization.
"Iran is one of the most important countries in the family of the Non-Aligned Movement," deputy foreign minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh said in an interview with state television.
The foreign ministry has taken on a central role in steering Iran through the six-day summit, presenting the theocratic Shi'ite state as a modern, progressive country, an image that contrasts with the inflammatory statements from senior figures that usually dominate the headlines.
Press TV, Iran's state-run English-language news channel, has previewed the summit with a slick promotional advert showing footage of U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi before cutting to picturesque images of Iran's most historic sites.
The network has devoted hours of coverage to the summit, with regular live updates from the conference and interviews with delegates that affirm Iran's positive role.
"The presence of a huge number of delegates proved that all the pressure not to attend Tehran failed," Yousry Abu Shadi, a member of Egypt's delegation, told Press TV on Tuesday.
Broadcasting schedules for the state-run Channel One television network show it will provide live cover of the event for five hours on Thursday and Friday, when more than 50 heads of state gather for the final two days, the ISNA news agency reported.
For the last two days, Iranian officials have boasted about the summit proceeding smoothly, with one saying that Iran had become "the focal point for political consultations".
On Tuesday, more than 50 foreign ministers sat down to debate the draft declarations on a range of issues including "upholding the movement against occupation and military aggression and the rights of members to benefit from peaceful nuclear energy," the state news agency, IRNA reported.
"Domestically, the regime is putting out a rallying cry to its people amidst a serious economic and political situation," said Scott Lucas, founder of EU Worldview, a news site that specializes in monitoring Iranian media.
"Internationally, they're trying to counter their isolation and this is the obvious showpiece to do it. But there hasn't been much substance coming out. They have to do something beyond the propaganda display to have any longer-term impact," he added.
The Islamic Republic has played the event as a great victory against the United States, its old enemy, said Sadeq Zibakalam of Tehran University.
"It says we're powerful and kicking," he added.
Despite its publicity drive and Tehran's claims it will act in the common interests of the Non-Aligned Movement, there are concerns that Tehran is using the body for its own purposes.
"All of us here in Tehran recognize there are some issues it has to deal with and our expectation is that uniquely Iranian issues do not hijack the movement," Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa told Reuters by telephone from Tehran.
Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that Iran would not halt enriching uranium for "even one second", Iranian media reported.
"At least to the Iranian people, Iran is using the summit to get across its own messages," said Zibakalam.
Natalegawa said the movement had a unified position on calling for all member states to meet their obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and that included Iran.
"We're calling on Iran to comply and co-operate closely with the IAEA," he said referring to the U.N. nuclear watchdog's repeated request for greater access to Iranian atomic sites.
In contrast to the nuclear issue, there has been precious little coverage of discussions on the crisis in Syria, regarded as the trickiest issue at the summit for Iran, Assad's main ally in the region.
A resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly this month indicated a majority of NAM members are critical of the Syrian government's actions in attempting to crush an insurgency that has cost the lives of about 20,000 people.
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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