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Arab Springs Breathe Life Into Non-Aligned Movement

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Iran-North Korea: Iran on Wednesday denied local media reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran next week. Local news websites had on Tuesday quoted the summit's spokesman, Mohammad-Reza Forqani, as saying that the North Korean leader would attend the summit, but he denied the reports.

"I never said such a thing and all reports in this regard are false and baseless," Forqani told the official news agency IRNA. He said that Kim Jong-un would not attend the summit and that the formation of the North Korean delegation would be disclosed in due time.

Comment: North Korea announced that its ex officio head of state Kim Yong-nam would lead the North Korean delegation to Tehran, not Kim Jong-un. North Korea might have missed a march in not sending a delegation headed by Kim Jong-un for its symbolic impact in reviving and redefining the Movement.

The rumors probably mean that the NAM invited Kim Jong-un, without expecting his attendance.

India: Update. The launch of the Indian navy's first indigenously-built aircraft carrier has been postponed until 2013 owing to delays in receiving various parts and equipment, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony said in a 22 August letter to the Indian Parliament. The launch originally was planned for October 2010. Commissioning is now expected by 2018.

Comment: The key point is that India not only has about five decades of experience in sailing aircraft carriers, it is building one to its own specifications.

Iran: Clarification and update. Iran will host 30 leaders at the Non-Aligned Movement summit from 26 to 31 August, including Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi; Cuban President General Raul Castro; Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

North Korea's Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, will also attend. Reuters reported that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon would attend, a spokesman for Iran's UN mission said. Israeli and U.S. officials previously made statements encouraging Ban not to attend.

Comment: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NAM meetings have had slight significance. The timing of this meeting coincides with the emergence of a new aggregation of state and non-state interests against those of the US. The so-called Arab spring has been the mid-wife of this new arrangement of state powers. The NAM summit has a rare opportunity to crystalize the power shifts and reinvigorate its shopworn credo.

It is important to note that none of the Arab spring countries or other non-aligned countries is hostile to US investment or to Americans. Theirs is a reaction to a unipolar global system, dominated by the US, in which they are minor powers. The system of nation states appears to be moving in the direction of multi-polarity, led by Iran as the point-man, fronting for China.

Iran-Syria: For the record. The Supreme Leader has ordered the Revolutionary Guards to intensify its campaign of terror attacks against the West and its allies in retaliation for supporting the overthrow of President Bashar al-Asad in Syria, according to unnamed Western intelligence officials. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave the order to the elite Quds Force unit following a recent emergency meeting of Iran's National Security Council in Tehran held to discuss a specially-commissioned report into the implications for Iran of the Asad regime's overthrow.

Comment: This report is not confirmed, but its message is consistent with the expansion of the Syrian fighting beyond the borders of Syria, into Lebanon and Kurdistan. While the report will remain unconfirmed and might not be accurate, it is a reminder that Iran has capabilities for mischief and terrorist attacks in Europe and America. Its leaders have been threatening to widen the Syrian fight on multiple occasions this month.

Lebanon: The Lebanese Army called on the nation's political factions and leaders to avoid interfering in the clashes between rival neighborhoods in the northern city of Tripoli, according to Lebanese media reports on 22 August. The military statement also announced an initiative to hold direct talks with leaders of the rival neighborhoods to control the tension.

Comment: The fighting in Tripoli has involved pro- and anti-Syrian militants. Syrian and Iranian interests in Lebanon have expanded steadily in the past few years, prior to the emergence of a violent opposition in Syria. Now Syrian interests appear determined to destabilize Lebanon as a second front in the Syrian fighting.

Egypt: President Mohammed Mursi will visit China from 28 to 30 August at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on 22 August. The presidents will sign a series of cooperation documents during the visit, the spokesman said.

President Morsi will land in Beijing on Monday, before heading for Tehran to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Comment: This will be the first visit by an Egyptian President to Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is another manifestation of Mursi's new balance in Egyptian foreign policy.

Tunisia: For the record. Dozens of Tunisian journalists protested in Tunis on 22 August, accusing the Islamist-led government of trying to control the media, AFP reported. The protesters chanted calls for free press and criticized the government.

Comment: By itself, this protest would be easy to dismiss. However, similar complaints have arisen this week against the Egyptian government's revival of press censorship this week over criticism of President Mursi.

End of NightWatch ###

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