Irish journalist and political commentator Finian Cunningham believes that the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran which wrapped up on August 31 was a "spectacular diplomatic coup for the Islamic Republic of Iran" and a "puncturing of Western self-importance."
"From the full and high-level attendance of nearly 120 nations at the NAM summit in Tehran, the majority of the world flatly disagrees with the Western powers’ position towards Iran. The majority of the world’s nations convened in Tehran with respect and solidarity towards the Islamic Republic," said Finian Cunningham in an exclusive interview with FARS News Agency.
"Iran was endorsed as holding the organization’s presidency for the next three years. This is a tremendous accolade to Iran. The majority of the world is saying: "We respect and trust Iran to lead the NAM in its central aim of achieving world peace and defending nations from aggression," he said.
What follows is the text of FARS News Agency’s interview with Finian Cunningham, the senior American journalist and political commentator with whom we’ve talked about the hosting of the 16th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, its impacts on the international popularity of Iran and the future of this movement under Iran’s three-year presidency.
Q: Iran has assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement for a three-year period. Has Iran’s international stature changed since the 16th NAM summit was convened in Tehran? Does the international community now look at Iran differently? What is the importance of Iran becoming the leader of this 120-nation bloc?
A: The hosting of the 16th summit of the NAM in Tehran was a spectacular diplomatic coup for the Islamic Republic of Iran, and an equally spectacular puncturing of Western self-importance. It was almost hilarious to see how the NAM meeting of nearly 120 nations - the vast majority of the world - in Tehran was such a fulsome rebuff and negation of the propaganda myths of a small number of Western powers, principally the United States, Britain and France. These powers, along with their criminal Zionist ally, Israel, have for nearly three decades since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 painted Iran as some kind of a world pariah. The Western powers and their supposed free-thinking, independent news media have tried every propaganda smear to undermine, denigrate, demonize, traduce and isolate Iran. Their vile efforts have failed spectacularly.
These powers and their media have slandered Iran as a "rogue state," "sponsor or terrorism," with demonic plans to annihilate Israel and as having malevolent secret ambitions to build nuclear weapons. Iran, they have asserted like a mantra, is in breach of international obligations and a threat to world peace. Well, spectacularly, from the full and high-level attendance of nearly 120 nations at the NAM summit in Tehran, the majority of the world flatly disagrees with the Western powers’ position towards Iran. The majority of the world’s nations convened in Tehran with respect and solidarity towards the Islamic Republic. This was a global vote of confidence for Iran. Decades of Western propaganda against Iran were dismissed by the actions, deeds and words of the world’s majority. Clearly, the majority of the world’s nations see Iran as an ally, a partner and as having an important positive role to play in international affairs.
There are two further consequences: first, the Western powers are exposed as a self-serving world micro-minority. Far from Iran being isolated, it is the Western powers of the US, Britain and France that are evidently isolated. For far too long, these arrogant powers have cloaked their imperialist agenda with the mantle of the "international community," claiming that they represent the concerns of the world with regard to Iran. Well, the international community was clearly present in body and spirit in Tehran for the NAM. This convocation of nations in Tehran was a vivid snub to the clique of Western powers - a most eloquent refutation of Western claims that they represent the international community. In effect, the NAM event delegitimizes the Western position towards Iran. The Western position is exposed as elitist, self-serving and ultimately baseless as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
The second consequence of the NAM - and this amplifies all of the above - is that Iran was endorsed as holding the organization’s presidency for the next three years. This is a tremendous accolade to Iran. The majority of the world is saying: "We respect and trust Iran to lead the NAM in its central aim of achieving world peace and defending nations from aggression." The implicit significance is that the micro-minority of Western powers that tried so assiduously to scupper the NAM summit from taking place are in fact the source of so much of the world’s conflict. These powers are the real threat to world stability, cooperation and peace.
Q: Israel has threatened Iran with a military strike over the past few years, and has beefed up its psychological warfare against Iran over the recent months, especially since the IAEA published its new report on Iran’s nuclear activities on May 25, 2012. Now, as the leader of a group of 120 world countries, is Israel still in the position to continue issuing war threats against Iran?
A: Israel should never have been in a position to make war threats against Iran in the first instance. It is surely one of the biggest scandals over the past century of international relations that Israel with all its criminality and violations towards the Palestinian people and neighboring countries should compound its litany of malevolence with war threats against Iran. The arrogance of Israeli political leaders is mind-boggling. They are so full of misplaced self-righteousness that they have lost all sense of normalcy and legal standard. Israeli political rulers are oblivious to their outrageous criminality and effrontery to common humanity. Of course, the Israeli rogue state has become habituated to this miscreant conduct only because it is indulged by the Western powers. I don’t see Israel changing its offensive attitude towards Iran just because of the NAM. It is so intoxicated by its Western-indulged arrogance, I suspect that it will continue issuing threats towards Iran. But as a result of the NAM endorsement and support to Iran, the position of Israel will become even more exposed and evident as that of a rogue state, a stain on humanity - to borrow the phrase of its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. World opinion is already turning against Israel. By continuing its criminal conduct, Israel can only sink further into the gutter and will be met with increasing boycotts from the citizens of the world. Israel as an artificial, unsustainable, militaristic state is digging its own grave, and the sooner the better. The territory it occupies will revert to a single Holy Land shared by Palestinians, Christians, Jews and non-believers living in brotherly solidarity and free from racist barriers. NAM must articulate a proper vision of Palestine to mobilize world opinion around such a genuine settlement.
Q: Iranian officials have vowed to revitalize and renovate the structure of the Non-Aligned Movement and bring it back to the prestigious position it enjoyed when it was founded in 1961 by a group of revolutionary leaders from Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Yugoslavia and India. Iran has proposed that it will establish a temporary secretariat for the group. Can Iran make successful attempts to give NAM a new birth?
A: It is an amusing irony that the NAM is seeing a renewed purpose in today’s world, 20 years after the end of the Cold War between the US-led Western powers and the Soviet Union. One may have surmised that without the Cold War, the NAM would no longer have purpose. But it is my view that the Cold War was never really the primary problem to world peace. It was merely a distraction from the primary threat that emanated from the capitalist, imperialist Western powers. These were the powers that engaged in colonialism and exploitation of the poorer nations. Nations that resisted the Western powers were attacked, subverted, subjugated and enslaved under military and economic dominance. The resources and wealth of the nations were extracted for the enrichment of Western capitalist corporations and banks. Often the subjugated nations were controlled by Western-backed despotic elites. The Western powers used the Cold War as a political cover to interfere in other nations for their own hidden self-serving objectives of economic exploitation.
Hence Western powers would intervene covertly and overtly with the official justification that they were doing so to defend "the free world against Soviet Communism." The Soviet "threat" was grossly inflated and distorted by the Western powers to cover for their own imperialist agenda. The latter, if obvious, would be rightly defined and denounced as criminal interference in sovereign states.
The point is that, while the Soviet Union has disappeared, the Western powers are still very much extant. And so too is their ubiquitous imperative to interfere and exploit other nations as they have always done in the service of Western capital. Western powers no longer have the convenient cover of the Cold War to justify their imperialism, so they have invented new pretexts for their criminal aggression and interference. These pretexts include the "war on terror," as we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq; "responsibility to protect (R2P) human rights," as seen in Libya; "promotion of democracy," as seen covertly in Syria; and allegedly securing the world against weapons of mass destruction, as seen in Western policy towards Iran.
In this way, the NAM has even more purpose and importance in today’s world than it has ever had since its foundation in 1961. During the Cold War, the Western powers were at least restrained by the danger of inciting a war with the formidable Soviet Union. Now, these Western powers are more dangerous and reckless than ever. Recent and ongoing conflicts show that these elite powers are acting more unilaterally and criminally in their aggression against countries that they deem to be targets for commandeering natural resources and installing pliant regimes for geopolitical advantage. The NAM’s founding principles of defending member states against imperialist aggression are more urgent than ever. Iranian leaders and people have an intelligent, informed understanding of the nature of Western imperialism. They rightfully see it as a clear and present danger to the nations of the world. Such analysis is being amply evidenced by contemporary conflicts and events. Iran will play a vital role in articulating this critical analysis of world affairs and in that way provide a crucial purpose for solidarity between nations to counteract the destructive threat of the US-led capitalist axis of minority, rogue powers.
Q: The Western mainstream media followed a very subtle policy in giving coverage to the NAM summit in Tehran. Firstly, they started bragging that world leaders will boycott the summit under pressure from Israel and the United States and stay away from Iran. However, after 120 countries sent high-ranking representatives to Tehran, the Western media started deriding the importance, significance and position of the Non-Aligned Movement, claiming that it is an outdated, outmoded organization. What do you think about their reaction to the summit in Tehran?
A: I can’t help smiling when answering this. Again, as mentioned above, the Western powers were exposed as a laughing stock in their futile propaganda war against Iran when the majority nations of the world gravitated to Tehran for the NAM summit. The US and Israel in particular looked sullen and ridiculous in their petulant demands for countries and governments to shun the NAM summit. Their churlish demands were spectacularly ignored and dismissed, as we have noted. The Western media were also similarly exposed as ridiculous. Western governments have such a grossly inflated notion of their own self-importance, and so too have their media. The irony is that the Western media consider themselves to be paragons of integrity, freedom of expression, independence, balance and objectivity. The reality is almost the complete inverse.
With regard to the foreign policy of the US, Britain and France towards Iran, the Western media follow their governments’ prejudices and misinformation in slavish lockstep. The so-called free-thinking Western media have in reality behaved like the propaganda departments of their governments with regard to peddling baseless claims about Iran’s alleged sponsoring of international terrorism and nuclear weapons ambitions. How many times have Western media repeated the cynical and disingenuous "concerns" of their governments with regard to Iran? The Western media have shamefully lent credibility to these otherwise bankrupt claims which have in turn led to the imposition of a raft of economic sanctions against Iran that are taking a heavy toll on the well-being of the Iranian people. These Western media should be rigorously investigating their governments’ claims and exposing them as fabrications, just as they should have done when those same governments fabricated the scare of Iraq’s "terror links to Al Qaeda" and "weapons of mass destruction" and then proceeded to subject Iraq to nine years of illegal occupation and crimes against humanity, with over one million people killed.
The egg dripping off the faces of the Western media with regard to the NAM summit epitomizes their shameful role as propaganda tools for their criminal governments. First, these media roll with the Western governments’ efforts to isolate Iran over the NAM, then when the world turns out in force at the NAM in Tehran, the Western governments and their media roll the other way and try to pretend the graphic display of solidarity, good will and respect for Iran is somehow trivial. Talk about double-think. Talk about ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. It’s almost hilarious the intellectual and moral bankruptcy, only the gravity of such propagandist media in facilitating criminal sanctions and wars is much too disturbing to laugh about.
Q: The leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement unanimously condemned the biting sanctions of the United States and European Union against Iran and threw weight behind Iran’s nuclear program. What’s your viewpoint regarding this tremendous support which the NAM leaders offered to Iran?
A: This support for Iran is right and entirely proper. Iran has the legal entitlement to do what it says it wants to do, which is develop nuclear technology and uranium enrichment for peaceful, civilian purposes. These applications are vital, for example medical radioisotope treatment for thousands of cancer patients in Iran. Every nation that is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to develop peaceful nuclear technology. That is what and why the NPT was formed to afford its members. The economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the US and the European Union, which are placing Iran’s economy and its people under duress, are therefore an outrageous act of aggression. They are illegal and without any evidential foundation.
These Western powers are the ones that are contravening international obligations. Their sanctions are based solely on suspicions that have never come close to being substantiated despite endless inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran is being punished, illegally and criminally, by self-imposed powers for entirely self-serving political reasons - reasons that cannot be justified by international law or by substance of their alleged concerns. Iran is not building nuclear weapons, does not have nuclear weapons and its leaders have repudiated such weapons as immoral and undesirable. Indeed Iran has made repeated, explicit calls for ensuring that the Middle East region should be made into a nuclear-weapon-free zone.
Evidently, the majority of world countries see that Iran has integrity and justice on its side. These countries endorse Iran’s nuclear development rights, and they repudiate the Western-imposed sanctions on Iran.
It is my view that the international community realizes that the Western powers are acting with cynicism and duplicity towards Iran. The world knows that Iran is a civilized, peaceful country, with a rich history of culture and learning. The world knows that there is something deeply offensive and anomalous about a minority of powers that have ravaged other nations through wars, imperialism, slavery and the actual, barbaric use of nuclear weapons - for these rogue powers to be lecturing Iran over spurious allegations of nuclear weapons. The attitude of these powers contains a racist arrogance. They can have weapons of mass destruction and nuclear technology, but nobody else is deemed worthy of possessing such technology. Anyway, it is not really about nuclear weapons. The issue is being used as a cover to illegally thwart Iran’s independent development. In backing Iran, the NAM countries have a mutual self-interest. If the US, Britain and France get away with blocking, thwarting Iran, these same powers can establish a precedent to stymie other emerging countries.
The endorsement of Iran by the NAM on the nuclear issue is a splendid confirmation of Iran’s legal rights and vindication of what Iran has been consistently maintaining all along about its legitimate nuclear project. I would like to add that Russia and China must take a more responsible role in the P5+1 nuclear talks. Moscow and Beijing must surely know that the Western agenda is fraudulent and they must take a more assertive position to defend Iran’s legitimate rights. It is disturbing that Russia and China seem to give such credibility to the Western agenda. Perhaps the NAM can lever Moscow and Beijing into taking a more constructive role in resolving this Western-imposed straitjacket on Iran.
Q: Has the remarkable attendance of the world leaders in the Tehran NAM summit dismantled this perception that Iran is internationally isolated, as claimed by the United States and Israel?
A: Yes, indeed. The NAM was the clearest expression of solidarity and respect towards Iran from among the majority of the world’s nations. It was a most fortuitous event coming at a time when Western powers and their Zionist attack dog, Israel, have been ramping up aggression against Iran, with threats of war and intensifying economic sanctions. Recently, some media commentators and analysts have perceived a supposed backing off by Washington from the war threats, leaving Israel apparently out on its own as a belligerent. I think such analysis is giving Washington far too much benefit of doubt. Washington and its Western allies have been gunning for Iran since at least 2003. For tactical reasons, the US may appear to be toning down the belligerence towards Iran. But let’s be under no illusion. There is a long-term criminal roadmap written by Washington for regime change in Iran. The covert operations of cyber war, assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists and other acts of terrorism in Iran are part of this Western warpath. Western efforts to smear and isolate Iran are also an integral part of this imperialist aggression to cripple Iran and engineer regime change.
Recall that the Western rogue powers, the US and Britain, did it before when they engineered the coup d’état against Iran’s Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953. Their recent effort to isolate Iran in the eyes of the world is a prelude to another subversion. The NAM solidarity with Iran delivers a stunning blow to Western designs of subterfuge and subversion on Iran. The Western powers under the dictates of capitalist imperialism are hardly going to desist from these efforts just because of the NAM show of solidarity with Iran. That would be like expecting a pack of wolves to suddenly become benign and tame. It is against the nature of the beast. However, the NAM show of strength in numbers and defiance of Western cajoling is a major setback to their nefarious predation towards Iran and other nations. The NAM demonstration of support to Iran, the constitution of so many nations, is bound to set up a strong defense wall against the Western wolves. The ultimate solution is of course the dismantling of capitalism in the West and its replacement with a humane system of internationalist solidarity. The NAM’s purpose could be to hold these predatory powers at bay, preventing more wars, until the people of the West achieve democratic control of their governments.
Q: How much effective is the role the Non-Aligned Movement can play in finding solutions to international crises, including the ongoing violence in Syria and the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is taking a heavy toll on the Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and Occupied Territories?
A: The renewed purpose and vigor of the NAM is, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in his address to the summit, just the beginning. It is very much up to the will and imagination of the NAM members to make what they can of the organization’s great potential. The NAM represents a powerful body and voice for the world’s majority. It must bring this power to bear on international law, economic development for the benefit of the world’s poor, and on public opinion and consciousness. Many of its members are poor, vulnerable countries. But collectively it represents a powerful forum that cannot be ignored. The NAM must exercise its powerful voice and moral authority. It must force matters on to the world agenda that have for too long been ignored or overlooked, such as the plight of the Palestinian people and the outrageous criminality of the Western powers in their instrumental support of Israel. The NAM should bring prosecution cases against criminal governments. It also needs to pursue trade and commerce links that diminish the abuse of power by the capitalist Western governments and corporations.
The NAM could not have a better presidency than it does now in Iran. Iran is an ardent, formidable critic of Western imperialism, providing leadership for more vulnerable members. Iran’s criticism of Israel and defense of Palestinian rights make it an important leader on that crucial issue for world peace. Iran’s assertion of nuclear rights is an important avenue of challenge to undermine the abuse of power by Western states. Also, the necessary development of new trade partnerships and means of payments that the illegal Western sanctions have imposed on Iran and other countries could ironically work in such a way to create positive alternatives to Western hegemony in economic and finance.
We should note, however, that there are inherent contradictions and weaknesses in the NAM. Some of its members, such as the Persian Gulf monarchies, are tools of the imperialist Western powers. These despotic monarchies are oppressing their own people. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are poignant cases. It is hoped that the need to form consensus and solidarity should not lead to compromised silence from NAM members against abuses carried out by some of its own members.
Q: Irritated with the presence of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in Tehran, the Western media disproportionately aggrandized those parts of his speech to the summit where he had criticized the Syrian government and called for a change of government in Damascus while willfully ignoring his steadfast supporting of the Palestinian nation and his insistence on the reformation of the UNSC structure. What’s your take on that?
A: In my view, the Egyptian President, Mohammed Mursi, displayed a woeful misunderstanding or a willful misinforming of the NAM summit on the issue of Syria. Either way, Mursi’s position was reprehensible. Syria and its people are being subjected to a covert war of aggression by the Western powers and their regional allies, Turkey, Israel and the Persian Gulf monarchies. It is disgraceful that Mursi trounced the principles of the NAM by denouncing the Syrian government in the same way that the enemy Western states are doing, rather than showing solidarity with Syria against this imperialist assault. Mursi’s speech was one of the low points of an otherwise immensely positive and constructive summit. The other low point was the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s odious display of puppetry for Western powers.
Q: And finally, how do you see the future of the Non-Aligned Movement under Iran’s presidency? Venezuela will be the next president of the movement after Iran. How important is the role of these independent, anti-colonialism countries in realizing the motto of the summit which was "lasting peace through joint global governance?"
A: The succession of the NAM presidency by Venezuela from Iran after the next three years will represent an important six years of formidable anti-imperialist leadership and critical voice. Like Iran, Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez is a fearless opponent and critic of Western predatory imperialism, capitalism and abuse of power. These countries are also ardent defenders of the rights of weaker nations. Together, the future of the NAM has the potential to make a tangible, constructive change for a better world, a world that is more peaceful and just, where hunger, poverty and conflict can be greatly reduced and eventually abolished. A critical task is to build up internationalist solidarity, collective action and consciousness and to face down the cabal of capitalist, criminal powers led by Washington. Iran and Venezuela are very much up to that noble, vital task.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari
FARS News Agency, 11 September, 2012.
Finian Cunningham is a regular contributor to Global Research and Press TV. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He has the experience of working in such media outlets as The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He specializes in Middle East affairs with a special focus on Bahrain, Syria and Iran.
Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian journalist and media correspondent. He writes for Tehran Times and Press TV. In 2010, he received the national medal of Superior Iranian Youth from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his media activities. He is a member of World Student Community for Sustainable Developments. His articles and interviews have been published in more than 10 languages in Canada, Poland, Belgium, UK, Egypt, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United States.