The United States will not attend next week's summit in Cuba of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that will gather some of its most hostile critics just 145 km from US soil, the top US diplomat in Cuba said on Saturday.
Michael Parmly said the United States had not taken up an invitation to attend the summit of 116 developing nations as an observer as it has in the past, noting that Washington had a better relationship with previous host Malaysia than it does with communist Cuba.
"We simply did not pick up the invitation," Parmly told Reuters.
Cuba has been an ideological foe of the United States since Fidel Castro came to power in a 1959 revolution.
The presidents of Iran and Syria, countries the Bush administration sees as members of an "axis of evil," are expected at the meeting, as well as a high-ranking delegation from the other alleged member, North Korea.
The summit is expected to endorse Iran's nuclear energy program and condemn Israel's bombing of Lebanon and US trade sanctions against Cuba.
Parmly said he would be surprised if the summit did not come out with a statement in support of Iran, but Washington would consider such a statement "unfortunate."
Communist-run Cuba and other countries critical of Washington, such as Venezuela, want the Non-Aligned Movement to criticize the US role as a world policeman. But moderates such as India want no such finger-pointing at the meeting, diplomats say.
The NAM was set up in 1961 in Belgrade by Third World nations that wanted to avoid being pawns in Cold War power games by not aligning with either Washington or Moscow. It has struggled to find relevance since the Cold War ended.
Cuban officials say Cuba, which takes over chairmanship from Malaysia for the next three years, wants to revive the movement as a defender of Third World interests disregarded by global capitalism.
The United States attended the last summit in Kuala Lumpur as an observer with 30 other mainly industrialized nations and the United Nations.
"We had a different relationship with the Malaysian host than we do with the host starting next week," Parmly said.
"South-South cooperation is an interesting idea. I hope that does not mean they think we are no longer interested in North-South cooperation.