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NAM Summit gathers US foes in Cuba

india Updated: Sep 10, 2006 14:21 IST
Reuters
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Leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement of 116 developing nations will meet in Cuba this week for a summit that will gather some of the United States' fiercest critics just 90 miles offshore.

The presidents of Iran and Syria, countries the Bush administration sees as members of an "axis of evil," are expected in Havana, as well as a high-ranking delegation from another, North Korea.

Washington's longest-lasting ideological foe, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is not believed to be well enough to chair the Sept 11-16 summit, weakened by intestinal surgery in July for an undisclosed illness that forced him to turn over power to his younger brother, Raul, and left him 41 pounds thinner.

Castro, 80, said last week he was on the road to recovery and would be able to receive some visiting leaders in private.

His main leftist ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, will likely fill the oratorical void and take up Castro's baton in the role of assailing Western capitalism in the name of the world's poor.

"Chavez may well become the star of the show," said Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington. "He will certainly use it as an anti-American platform."

"Part of the color, though, will be lost if Fidel can't give one of his 3- to 4-hour rousing speeches," Roett said.

The NAM, which groups almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations, is expected to endorse Iran's nuclear energy program after Tehran ignored an Aug 31 UN Security Council deadline to stop enriching uranium, a process that could yield atomic bombs.

The developing nations will criticise US sanctions against Communist-run Cuba, according to a draft of the final document that is still under negotiation.

The summit may serve to revive peace efforts between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are due to hold their first meeting in a year on the sidelines and could restart ministerial level talks frozen in the wake of the Mumbai bombings in July.

The NAM was founded in Belgrade in 1961 by Third World leaders such as India's Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser and Indonesia's Achmad Sukarno, under the aegis of Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito, to try to avoid alignment with either the United States or the Soviet Union.

But since the Cold War ended, the movement has struggled to find a purpose. Experts say the movement is handicapped today by historical, cultural and religious divisions.

"It's a relic of the Cold War. Allowing Cuba to head the movement again indicates that it is pretty irrelevant, particularly under an ailing Fidel or an aging Raul," Roett said.

"They clearly are not going to have the energy to do very much other than make statements."

The NAM has been supplanted by other emerging nation groups focused on more relevant issues, like the G20, which met with US and European Union officials in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday to try to break deadlocked global trade talks, he said.

Cuba, which takes over chairmanship from Malaysia for the next three years, hopes to revive the movement by rallying nations critical of the US role as a world policeman in the wake of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.

But moderates like India want no such finger-pointing at the meeting, diplomats say.

The summit serves as a bully pulpit for small countries, but "this isn't the way the winds are blowing in the world," a diplomat from a major South American nation said. Larger emerging nations are looking to other fora to further their interests in trade and investment, the diplomat said.

Cuba expects heads of state and governments from 50 nations to attend.

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