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Delegations from the Non-Aligned Movement on Friday began negotiations over a final document sharply critical of Israel and supportive of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Cuba – the host country of the movement’s 14th summit – and its close ally Venezuela sought to steer the group towards more a more radical anti-US line.
Meeting in Havana, the summit has also allowed Cuba to advertise the recovery of President Fidel Castro, who underwent stomach surgery for intestinal bleeding at the end of July, and has served to highlight Cuba’s strengthening ties with Venezuela under its controversial president, Hugo Chávez.
With large numbers of international journalists in Cuba to cover the event, the authorities have streamed pictures and video from the secret clinic where an apparently jovial Mr Castro is recovering, well enough to work on a book of interviews entitled One Hundred Hours with Fidel and hold a stream of meetings with conference participants.
Although Mr Castro was on Friday not expected to make a formal appearance it has been claimed that he has orchestrated events from behind the scenes. Raúl Castro, his 75-year old brother, who temporarily took over as head of state last month, hosted Friday’s opening session.
“When Castro first announced his illness it appeared that hosting the NAM summit would pose an unwanted task at an inconvenient moment. Saturday, with Castro recuperating and Cuba playing host to hundreds of influential well-wishers from across the world, top Cuban leaders now think that the summit was exquisitely timed after all,” said Dan Erikson, Caribbean expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.
Mr Chávez, who will host a visit to Caracas by the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad on Sunday, described the summit as the most important event in recent years “because it takes place when the US empire is experiencing decline.
“Nobody can deny this; it is visible. It will end up being as Mao Zedong said: a paper tiger.”
Many observers, however, believe it will be impossible to link the movement, formed in 1961 by developing countries anxious to define themselves as independent equally of the Soviet Union and of the US, to such a radical geopolitical agenda.
“The NAM is a political forum but not a movement, because its members do not act as a bloc,” said Phil Peters, vice-president of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute policy group. “Regardless of the resolutions passed, these countries will follow their own interests and make their own coalitions on issues such as trade, nonproliferation, and terrorism.”
However, Venezuela was also using the summit to lobby for votes to win a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council in the face of US opposition, and may have more success in that area.
“The Arab League says yes, the US says no, almost all of Africa says yes, the US says no, Russia says yes, the US says no, China says yes, now that’s already a big victory, let’s just wait for the results,” Mr Chávez said late on Thursday.