- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International at the Non-Aligned Summit in Kuala Lumpur for Feb. 19 …

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India Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf will both attend the opening of the 13th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement's 114 nations in Malaysia Friday, but diplomats of both countries say there are no plans for the two men to meet. The Cold War between the two nuclear power's is South Asia's most dangerous trouble spot and a grim reminder to the NAM of the divisions that plague its attempt to be a united voice for the world's developing nations. Summit host Malaysia is still hoping to engineer some kind of top-level meeting during the summit, if only an agreement for India and Pakistan to restore their diplomatic relations to ambassadorial level. The prospects do not look good since India does not rate the NAM too highly. At the last ministerial meeting in South Africa, Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh opened the proceeding by saying New Delhi think tanks were telling him the NAM was dead, or at best in intensive care.

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The joke going round the NAM summit, which is focusing hard on ways to defuse the Iraq crisis and prevent a war, is that they are expecting a rich new member to fly in — Jacques Chirac. After its blocking performances against American policy at the United Nations, France would fit right in. The NAM even speaks the language, with French joining English, Spanish and Arabic as the NAM's four official languages.

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A lot of eyes at the NAM summit will be on Malaysia Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Badawi, scheduled to take over the country's top job, and the NAM chair, after Mohammad Mahathir steps down in October. Knowing that Badawi was educated in Islamic religious schools, the Americans are just a little nervous about the implications. There's another factor. Heading for a U.N. meeting in New York last year, Badawi landed in Los Angeles — and was ordered to remove his belt and shoes for a security check. Mahathir made a big fuss, claiming Badawi had been "manhandled" and that Malaysia had been insulted. Badawi was more understanding — knowing that the real problem was that Malaysian consulate staff arrived at the airport too late to smooth his way through the landing procedures.

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Discreet talks are under way between lawyers about a deal that could free Malaysia's most prominent "political prisoner" — former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim. Three years ago, Anwar's arrest and trial on charges of sodomy (among other offences) provoked the biggest and angriest demonstrations Malaysia had seen in decades after police testimony was shown to be tainted. One place where offences had supposedly taken place was not even built at the time. But freedom for Anwar would mean a headache for Badawi's scheduled succession to the prime ministership, confronting him with an instant challenger. And Anwar's political record as the hero of Malaysia's militant Muslims would threaten more divisions among the majority Malay community.

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Here comes another Troika. Undeterred by the unconvincing performance of the EU's Troika, the group of three foreign ministers of the past, present and future holders of the EU presidency, the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement is planning to announce its own Troika system at the NAM's 13th summit in Malaysia Friday. The idea is to add weight and continuity to the NAM's diplomacy with other big international groups like the G-8 summit of Western industrial countries, plus Russia. Malaysia, host and current chair of the NAM, had been pushing for the NAM to develop its own permanent secretariat, and is setting up a national NAM secretariat as a nucleus. But other countries are balking at the likely cost. Bangladesh, for example, was supposed to be the host of this year's NAM summit, but decided it couldn't afford it, which let Malaysia step in. The Troika looks like a cheap option.

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The NAM summit has booked out all the Kuala Lumpur hotels — even its central city jail. Originally built by the British colonial rulers on what is now a prime downtown commercial site, the jail was emptied pending demolition. But now it is full again — of the city's homeless, all decanted into the prison to clean up the streets for the summiteers.

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