by Imran Khan
Security men in black suits and dark sunglasses watch over visiting diplomats, many hands are shaken and in closed door meetings the fate of the world is discussed. In a grand complex in Tehran some of the world's great and good gather for annual conference of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Non-aligned. It's a curious term. Given that many of the countries in attendance are definitely aligned to some extent - some to the United States of America, others to China, yet more to Russia - the name itself feels a little bit irrelevant at first glance.
The movement began in the early 1960s, the brainchild of five men, all advocates of a "middle way" foreign policy, a policy that was not at the beck and call of the US and the Soviet Union. Powerful leaders all, the men were Yugoslavia's president Tito; India's first prime minister Nehru; Egypt's second president Nasser; Ghana's first president Nkrumah; and Indonesia's first president Sukarno. At the time it had relevance, and was considered groundbreaking for allowing smaller countries to have their say.
But as the cold war thawed the movement became lost and began to feel outdated.
But scratch below the surface and you see, perhaps, a movement that is being invigorated, that's finding some sort of purpose in the world. It might be to do with the way the world is right now - a conflagration of circumstances. American and Russia are increasingly at odds over foreign policy, Iran and Israel are at loggerheads, the new economic powerhouses of the world - Brazil, China, India - are reshaping the world in which we live. And the Arab Spring has brought about change once only dreamed of by some.
Against that backdrop the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of 120 nations and 17 observer countries, could have a role to play.
As I sit in the great hall watching diplomacy play itself out in what feels like slow motion, I wonder if that role could come about because of two issues: Iran and Israel, and Syria.
In the coming days we will see much movement, at least words-wise, on those two issues. The summit is expected to yield a statement on Syria and what role the international community should play. Iran's supreme leader is due to give a speech to the delegates on Wednesday. Most observers expect that he will address the Issue of Israel. With Iran as the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, it's perfectly placed to highlight the issues it wants addressed and to try and build some sort of broad support.
Others are not so sure. One diplomat I spoke to -who asked not be named, as he is not authorised to speak to the media - put it bluntly.
"Why would the world rally around Iran? Countries may pay lip service to Iran-specific issues and pretend to be sympathise, but ultimately money and aid talk, and the US is still the biggest player and can buy influence."
It's a telling statement. Iran-bashers have long maintained that the country is isolated, that it is slowly crumbling under the weight of sanctions. Iran disagrees and says its standing in the world is affirmed by summits such as this.
Iran is playing this summit for all it's worth.
The next few days shall see much in the way of diplomacy and tact.
Leaders of countries at odds with each other, such as Pakistan and India, will meet on the sidelines, something that has only happened a handful of times in recent years.
Syria will be a key talking point. But can a convention of such countries really realign the worlds powers? Can such a disparate group of interests come together?
It's highly unlikely. But what could come to pass is a reinvigoration of the movement itself, finally throwing off the shackles of the cold war and finding relevance in today's world, if only to provide another viewpoint in world dominated by a few powers.
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|William A. Cook|