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 Prime Minister to Iran in over a decade. He will be attending the NAM leaders summit from August 30 to 31. The key issue expected to dominate NAM is Syria, with all the major regional powers being part of the 120-member bloc.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the Arab League, have been forcefully pushing for a regime change, publicly calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Iran is currently the only regional ally of Syria - its position also a reflection of its traditional rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had piloted a successful UN general assembly resolution against Syria, in which India had abstained from voting.
Official sources explained that 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. But, India knows that in the current international scenario, it’s a tall hope that Syria will not feature in the summit.
India has been batting for a Syrian-led solution and called for an even-handed treatment of Damascus and Syrian rebels. New Delhi is however not that happy with the Assad regime, as they failed to keep their promises for political reforms to an IBSA delegation last year.
Iran’s position as chair will also reflect in the wording of the final declaration. Indian officials expect more contentious negotiations at the pre-summit meetings, which will sort out the declaration before the leaders’ summit. So far, except for Kuwait, none of the other Arab countries have confirmed their presence in Tehran.