NAM opens meet with Iraq crisis clouding talks

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), 20 Feb 2003 -- The Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) today concluded its first day deliberation with much time focused on discussions on the political direction of NAM and the efforts needed to revitalize the 40-year old movement, the theme of the summit in Kuala Lumpur against the backdrop of the looming war on Iraq which some delegates insisted should not dominate or cloud over deliberations in the summit.

The issue of the relevance of the NAM, a movement set up in response to the bipolar world of the Cold War era, has plagued the grouping especially since the fall of the communist bloc.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference today, Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the three main motivations behind the NAM - decolonization, disarmament and development are still relevant and important today as it was at the time of the conception of the movement.

While the old reasons for decolonization might not be true now, member countries are facing a new type of colonization which calls for a need to engage in a dialogue between the developed North and the developing South, he said.

In terms of development, most countries have still far to go as problems such as poverty and diseases are still prevalent and hence “NAM is still as relevant as before,” he added.

The Senior Officials will continue to meet for another day but given the enormity of the task before the delegates in trying to negotiate a 300-page Final Document, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration and the various other statements, provisions have been given for meetings to continue till the ministerial session on Saturday at the latest, if necessary, for work to be completed. The Heads of State and government summit takes place on Feb 24-25 during which they are expected to adopt the various documents.

The Final Document will represent the group’s position on various issues ranging from politics, economics and social while the Kuala Lumpur Declaration will touch on general issues with the focus on matters pertaining to the revitalization of the movement.

Discussions on the wide ranging issues were divided into two working committees—the Political Committee and the Economic and Social Committee which are chaired by Ecuador and the Philippines respectively. Their main task is to deliberate on the 300-page Final Document especially those areas that remain in square brackets such as matters pertaining to human rights in relation to economic issues.

Three working groups on terrorism, peace disarmament and the situation in Iraq were also formed as was a ministerial committee on Palestine, a continuing process of the NAM to address the question of the formation of a separate Palestinian state.

The working group on Iraq, which was initiated by Malaysia, will issue a separate statement at the end of its discussion, on the current situation in the Middle East country and the position to be taken by NAM in respect of Iraq to be presented to the ministerial meeting and subsequently to the Heads of State and Governments next week for its adoption.

On whether a consensus on Iraq would be achieved given the divergent views on the issue among the 114 members, the Malaysia’ Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry and Chairman of SOM, Ahmad Fuzi Haji Abdul Razak, presented a positive outlook.

“Every view will be taken into account in the final document on Iraq. Many countries have their own positions on various issues including of course the situation in Iraq. There is a wide body of opinion which felt that war is not the option to resolve the problem,” he said.

On the discussions on terrorism, Syed Albar said while there is an international consensus on the need to fight terrorism in a cooperative manner, concern was expressed among delegates as to whether the focus on the impending war and the crisis in Iraq might shift attention away from terrorism as a threat to peace and security.

Without going into details as talks are still ongoing, the Malaysian minister said the other areas discussed by delegates today include globalization and interdependence, the revitalization of international cooperation for development such as how to increase economic activities in the context of enhancing international trade and trade among member countries, international financial issues including the need for a new international financial architecture, foreign direct investment and issues relating to external debt.

The Senior Officials also agreed today to recommend the admission of Timor Leste and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as new members of NAM, to be considered at the ministerial and summit levels. The acceptance of these two new members will raise the total membership of the movement to 116.

Earlier today, Syed Hamid, in his speech at the opening of the SOM meetings, stressed the need for the movement to repackage and retool itself in the context of the realities of the international order today in order to continue to remain relevant.

He noted that the challenges facing NAM members in their role as champion of the weak and powerless is enormous in a world that is increasingly interdependence and complex hence such challenges are even more intricate and potentially more divisive than in the past.

“From the rigid rules of the Cold War, which saw the two rival blocs thrusting and parrying at each other, the world is now unipolar in character in which the dominant, even hegemonic, superpower veers between isolationism and unilateralism, thus creating a lot of uncertainty and disequilibrium in the international system,” said Syed Hamid.

The task of NAM is therefore, to “promote multilateralism as the central and indispensable pillar of the new international order” and to adhere to the principles spelled out in the Charter of the  United Nations.

Alluding perhaps to the situation in respect to Iraq specifically and international conflicts in general, Syed Hamid said that “conflict should not be resolved through force”, but through the multilateral process to ensure international peace and security.

He also noted that intra-state conflict has increased and called upon members to put their own houses in order to avoid interference from the rich and powerful.

Globalisation was singled out as the source for the erosion of sovereignty of states and resulted in the further impoverishment of the majority of developing countries, the benefits of which still elude many.

“While globalization has provided some of us with opportunities, on balance, globalization has been a bane for the overwhelming majority of the developing countries. Our share of the so-called ‘prosperity’ brought by globalization has been too little and too fleeting,” he said.

In a global economy that is facing a slowdown, developing countries more often than not bear the brunt of the negative effects of globalization, he concluded.

Another reality that he pointed out is the fact that member countries in varying degree are indebted to the rich countries, whether directly or indirectly, through the institutions and agencies which they control and that success is not assured even for those who toe the line while running the risk of falling even more indebted to these institutions. The Malaysian minister also pointed out that the developed countries fight against terrorism has brought out “the worst racist impulses” in these countries as manifested in their policies put in place after September 11.

He added that “acts  of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of related intolerance is on the increase” in developed countries and expressed concern that “political parties whose ideologies are based on doctrines of racial superiority, racial discrimination or ethnic exclusiveness have made significant inroads in the polity of these countries.

As such, NAM should continue to condemn these ideologies and be in the forefront to fight against racism, he said.

Malaysia expects the summit to break the record of the highest number of heads of state or government attending from the previous 58 leaders. As of today, 56 leaders have confirmed their attendance. They include Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Cuban President Fidel Castro, Afghan President Abdul Hamid Karzai, President Sayyed Mohammad Khatami of Iran, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.