TEHRAN (AP) — Iran opened a world gathering of self-described nonaligned nations Sunday with a slap at the U.N. Security Council and an appeal to rid the world of nuclear weapons, even as Tehran faces Western suspicions that it is seeking its own atomic bombs.
Iran seeks to use the weeklong gathering — capped by a two-day summit of Non-Aligned Movement leaders — as a showcase of its global ties and efforts to challenge the influence of the West and its allies. Among those expected to attend are U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose nation remains an important Iranian oil customer as Tehran battles Western sanctions over its nuclear program.
The 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement, a holdover from the Cold War’s pull between East and West, also is seen by Iran and others as an alternative forum for current world discussions. Iran says it plans talks on a peace plan to end Syria’s civil war, but no rebel factions will attend because of Tehran’s close bonds with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi opened the gathering by noting the commitment to a previous goal from the nonaligned group, known as NAM, to remove the world’s nuclear arsenals within 13 years.
“We believe that the timetable for ultimate removal of nuclear weapons by 2025, which was proposed by NAM, will only be realized if we follow it up decisively,” he told delegates.
Iran insists it does not seek nuclear weapons. The U.S. and allies suspect that Tehran’s uranium enrichment eventually could lead to warhead-level material. They have imposed ever-tighter sanctions on Iran‘s banking and oil exports in attempt to wring concessions.
Israel has said that it would consider military options if diplomacy and economic pressures fail to curb Iran‘s nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Salehi criticized Israel for remaining outside the U.N. main treaty governing the spread of nuclear technology. Israel refused to discuss the full range of its military capabilities, but it is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal.
Iranian ally North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun arrived in Tehran on Sunday to attend the meetings.
Outside the meeting site, Iran displayed three cars damaged by bomb blasts that Tehran has blamed on agents from Britain, the United States and Israel. At least five members of the Iranian scientific community, including nuclear experts, have been killed since early 2010 as part of a suspected covert war with its main foes.
Iran and its proxies, in turn, have been linked by investigators to a series of attacks and plots on Israeli targets around the world.
Mr. Salehi also complained about the perception of the “falling” clout of the U.N.’s general membership at the expense of the “rising power of the U.N. Security Council,” led by permanent members U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China.
Even before the first session got under way, however, a dispute flared over Palestinian envoys.
Iranian officials said a political leader of Tehran’s ally Hamas had not been invited to the meeting in Tehran, contradicting Hamas claims that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was asked to come by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hamas later Sunday said that Mr. Haniyeh had dropped plans to attend.