Monday, August 20, 2012

Lebanon and the NAM Summit 

Iran plans to host a summit meeting for the so-called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) later this month. President Michel Suleiman is on the list of invitees. Talk of the town is that he will attend. But should he?

For one thing, the idea of being non-aligned with  either the Soviet-led East or the U.S.-led West is a cold war  idea whose time has come and gone. It has little relevance to today’s world. But that’s not a strong reason why President Suleiman should not go. In fact, presidents do make many foreign visits and attend many events which are of little added value. As long as no harm is done one normally lets such things pass without making a fuss about them.

One must admit, however, that it is rather difficult to swallow the idea of Iran championing the cause of international non-alignment. There is a limit to acceptable levels of farce in the world of politics and international relations. Iran hosting the non-alignment movement definitely over-steps that limit. It  defies common sense. In an era when Iran is leading an ideological, military, and geopolitical alliance at loggerheads with an opposite line-up of  regional and global adversaries, convening a  non-alignment event in Tehran sounds ludicrous. It’s an oxymoron.

Some of the invited heads of state may have their own reasons for going. President Morsi of Egypt for example may think that by going to Iran he will be reaffirming Egypt’s role as a regional power. He may even want to usher a new policy or stretch a hand, perhaps. Some Egyptians may take issue with that. But it is for President Morsi as it is for each leader to weigh the pros and cons and decide.

However, none of the other heads of state is in comparable shoes to those of President Suleiman.

None of the other  leaders invited to this Non-Alignment event presides over a country that is being forced to accept a de facto alliance with  Iran; none of the other sovereign leaders has to live with an independent military force in his own country that declares itself an ally of Iran; and none of the other leaders has sworn on a  constitution that is being trampled on every day in the name of loftier goals and causes set in Tehran rather than in his own capital;

This is Lebanon’s exclusive predicament. We have an issue with Iran that no other country has.

It is bad enough for the unconstitutional status quo to be forced on the country by Iran’s allies in Lebanon. But the  presence of President Suleiman in the summit would arguably send an added bad message. It would be understood as acquiescence by the Lebanese state to Iran’s treatment of Lebanon as an integral part of its regional  military alliance and as an endorsement by official Lebanon of Iran’s repeated declarations to that effect.

So should the President simply rsvp his regret to Mr. Ahmadinejad? In my view, he would be totally justified if he did that.

But regardless whether he goes or not, here is what I think the president should also do.

I believe it is a good time for President Suleiman to himself call for an international conference. An international conference on Lebanon. He should invite all the relevant countries in the region and the world (with the exception of Israel of course) to a historic meeting in Beirut. The purpose should be to declare Lebanon’s neutrality and request that all countries (including Iran) respect it fully. Lebanese leaders announced support for Lebanon’s  non-alignment three months ago during the opening session of the national dialogue (the Baabda declaration). The president should take this a step further and elevate it to an international endorsement.

A Lebanese non-alignment conference would make sense and serve a good purpose. Going sheepishly to the other non-alignment conference in Tehran simply to fill Lebanon’s seat or show the Lebanese flag does neither.

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