Turkey rebuffs Iranian invitation to NAM summit

Turkey rebuffs Iranian invitation to NAM summit

(Photo: Reuters)

August 24, 2012, Friday/ 16:07:00/ SİNEM CENGİZ

Turkey, whose relations with Iran have recently become strained, is not expected to attend the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran later this month, neither at the presidential nor ministerial level, Turkish diplomatic sources told Today's Zaman.

According to an official from the presidential office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, President Abdullah Gül has no plans to attend the summit despite an invitation from his Iranian counterpart.

The same official stated that Turkey was not planning to attend the summit from the very beginning as Turkey is not a member of the movement, which comprises 120 countries.

He added that even if Turkey planned to attend, there are several factors which would prevent that from happening.

For the first time in the history of Turkey a single reception on the occasion of Victory Day, Aug. 30, will be hosted by the president at the Çankaya presidential palace as opposed to previous years, when top commanders hosted separate receptions at military facilities.

"The summit is on August 29. On August 30, which is Victory Day for Turkey, President Gül will greet guests at Çankaya presidential place. This event will be taking place for the first time in the palace,” said the official.

The official added that a second reason preventing Gül from attending the summit is a health ailment.

Gül, who went to Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday to attend a meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (CCTS), cut short his visit and returned to Turkey earlier than scheduled due to the recurrence of an ear problem. Although it was reported on Friday that Gül's health was good, doctors do not recommend travel for Gül.

According to an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke on condition of anonymity with Today's Zaman, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is also not expected to attend the summit due to his busy schedule, adding that it was still not clear at which diplomatic level Turkey would attend the summit, if at all.

Meanwhile, Iran has temporarily suspended visa-free travel with Turkey. Iran has explained this decision as part of security precautions it is taking in connection with the summit in Tehran, which currently holds the three-year rotating NAM presidency.

In a phone interview from Serbia, Dušan Spasojevic, Serbian ambassador to Turkey, told Today's Zaman that Serbia was planning to attend the summit at the foreign minister level, adding that the Serbian president's attendance was still an open question. “For Serbia, NAM is an important forum for international diplomacy. Serbia was one of the founders of NAM through Yugoslavia,” said Spasojevic.

When asked why Serbia was attending the summit in the status of observer, Spasojevic replied that due to the civil war in the former Yugoslavia in 1992, NAM kicked out all members of the former Yugoslavian states from the movement. “NAM was not happy with the civil war; therefore, it kicked out all the members of ex-Yugoslavia,” said Spasojevic.

Currently, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have observer status in the organization, although Spasojevic pointed out that NAM celebrated its 50th anniversary in Belgrade Sept. 5–6, 2011.

The NAM, born at the height of the Cold War, brings together nations that consider themselves independent of the world's major power blocs. The movement, which was founded in the former Yugoslavia in 1955 and is the largest grouping of countries outside the UN, aims to give a voice to the developing world.

According to the Now Lebanon News Agency, Iran will submit a proposal to NAM to end the conflict taking place on the soil of it close ally, Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in comments published on Friday.

"[Iran] has a proposal regarding Syria, which it will discuss with countries taking part in the NAM summit," the Fars News Agency and Mehr News Agency quoted Salehi as saying in comments to state television.

"This proposal is an acceptable and rational one, which includes all parties, and opposing it will be very difficult," the minister was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Iran perceives the summit as an important opportunity to portray itself as part of the international scene despite concerted efforts by the United States and the European Union to isolate it diplomatically and economically over its disputed nuclear program.

Iranian officials believe that the awaited summit will serve as a proof that the nuclear-ambitious state is not isolated as the West would prefer, as more than 100 countries declared their willingness to participate.

"So far, more than 100 countries have said they are ready to participate, and around 30 nations will be represented by presidents, prime ministers or vice presidents, which is a very good number," Salehi told the ISNA news agency.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Cuban leader Raul Castro, Armenian President Serzh Sarksian and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to attend the summit. Also, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman are expected. Yet, there is no signal that Iran's close ally, Syria, will attend.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also expected to attend. Israel on Thursday warned Ban and other world leaders not to fall into an Iranian propaganda "trap" when they attend the summit.

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