This falls in the category of "You've got to be kidding!"
On Aug. 26, Iran will assume, for the next three years, the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at a summit in Tehran.
None other than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will preside.
Founded five decades ago at the height of the Cold War with a markedly anti-Western tilt, NAM today has 120 member countries and 17 observer states. It includes nearly two-thirds of the UN's member states, including many African, Asian, and Latin American nations.
As NAM has no permanent secretariat, responsibility for its activities rests with the Chair. Iran, seeing a unique chance for itself, is going flat-out.
While the United States, Israel and their European allies are pulling out all the stops to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, the upcoming meeting of the heads of state of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran seems to be throwing a spanner in their works... NAM has the capability of effectively influencing global events. Its members can assist one another in diplomatic lobbying, selecting the non-permanent members of the Security Council and making decisions in the UN Human Rights Council... The upcoming NAM summit in Tehran is an invaluable opportunity for Iran to show its diplomatic prowess and demonstrate that it's impossible for bullying powers and their stooges to isolate it. The event will unquestionably testify that Iran has not become the lonely and friendless country that the United States and its lackeys paint it.
It's well worth asking how in this day and age a global organization can evolve that allows Iran to represent it.
But the more immediate question is what happens next, most specifically in Tehran later this month and beyond.
For Iran, it is vital that as many top leaders as possible from NAM countries show up in Tehran.
In Iranian eyes, this would confer the legitimacy, support and photo ops the country craves. Iranian officials have been fanning out all over the world, using both "carrots" and "sticks" at their disposal, to promote attendance.
Will they succeed?
And if so, at what level -- president, foreign minister, mid-level official, or entry-level bureaucrat?
Right now, Iran's news agency, FNA, not the world's most reliable source, is trumpeting that 30 (of 120) heads of state -- and the UN secretary-general -- are planning to be in Tehran, with many more expected.
Will those who do come allow themselves to be caught on camera smiling, embracing and chitchatting with Ahmadinejad and his cohorts?
What will they say when asked by the regime's journalistic flacks about Iran's policies?
Or, apart from such stalwart friends as Cuba, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, will countries largely stay away, realizing the trap that's been set for them?
After all, if they go, they will be hard-pressed to explain a few things.
It won't cut it to invoke such self-justifying phrases as "We had no choice as NAM members," or "Don't read anything into our presence there," or, "I spoke up behind closed doors," or "The photo of me hugging Ahmadinejad is meaningless because privately I detest him."
Like it or not, those who go to Tehran for this summit -- and then allow Iran to speak in their name for the next three years, as it will surely seek to do at the UN and elsewhere -- are emboldening the regime.
Here are five reasons to deny Iran what it seeks.
First, to judge from UN votes and public statements, a number of NAM countries, like many others, are appalled by the barbaric behavior of Assad's Syria.
Iran, of course, and it should be made to pay a heavy price for its Syrian involvement.
Second, Iran is a serial violator of human rights.
Surely, there are those NAM member states that can't abide systematic persecution of Christians, of Sunni Muslims, of Baha'i, of homosexuals, of women, of political dissidents, or the widespread use of capital punishment for children and the denial of free and fair elections.
Third, according to the Obama administration, Iran is the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism."
Five Iranians, including, please note, the current defense minister, are the target of Interpol "red notices," originally requested by Argentina, for their involvement in the terrorist attack in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded 300 others.
Iran was implicated by the United States last year in an assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Directly and through its active support of Hezbollah worldwide, Iran has been linked to terrorist plots from Thailand to India, from Azerbaijan to Iraq, from Kenya to Cyprus, from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, from Bulgaria to Lebanon, and the list goes on.
Fourth, Iran has brazenly defied its international obligations, which have nothing to do with the right to peaceful nuclear energy and everything to do with nuclear-weapons capability.
From the November 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency: "After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
And fifth, the Non-Aligned Movement includes countries that enjoy mutually beneficial ties with Israel.
Are these nations entirely comfortable being associated with a regime whose president declared as recently as Aug. 2, and not for the first time, "Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation [emphasis added] of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom"? Or who has called the Holocaust a "myth" and said the Jews "fabricated a legend," and peddles classical anti-Semitic tropes?
In other words, this is not the time to embrace Iran, but to shun it for (i) its complicity in Syria, (ii) trampling of human rights, (iii) sponsorship of terrorism, (iv) violation of UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA guidelines regarding its nuclear program, and (v) genocidal desire to annihilate another UN member state.
The upcoming NAM summit offers a stark choice for those who down deep understand what's at stake -- the politics of business as usual or the politics of moral backbone.
We'll soon see which prevails.