It will be a delicate balancing act for India in the run-up to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran this month, where the Syrian crisis is expected to dominate proceedings, as the rival players in the region jostle around to stamp their narrative on the summit declaration.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be leading the delegation to Tehran, which will also mark the visit of an Indian PM to Iran in over a decade after AB Vajpayee. He will be attending the NAM leaders’ summit on Aug 30-31, with Iran pulling out all stops to show that it has not been isolated in the international community.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the Arab League, have been forcefully pushing for a regime change in Syria publicly calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, as the strategically placed country is right now in a full-fledged civil war. Iran is currently the only regional ally of Syria - its position also a reflection of its traditional rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
A taste of the bitter entrenched debate was got at the NAM coordinating bureau ministerial meeting at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt in May. It saw intense exchanges between the Saudi and Qatari delegation, and the Syrian side, over the wordings to be included in the final document, which will be the basis for negotiations for the summit declaration.
The final document had a water-down reference to Syria, backing the six-point plan of the then special envoy of UN and Arab League, Kofi Annan.
But, a lot of water has flown down the drain since then, with Kofi Annan having stepped down his post and the civil war now reaching a kind of stalemate, with neither side winning.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar had piloted a successful UN general assembly resolution against Syria earlier this month, but India had abstained from voting.
According to official sources, India does not want the Syria issue to be the sole focus for the NAM summit, as it will be then just duplicating the efforts in other international fora. “We want a reinvigoration of NAM, which should be all about south-south cooperation,” said a highly-placed government official.
According to Indian officials, they expect more contentious negotiations at the pre-summit meetings, which will sort out the declaration before the final meeting.