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    Middle East
     Jan 11, 2012

Ahmadinejad's tour tests non-alignment
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

PALO ALTO, California - In the midst of a rapidly worsening international crisis centered on Iran's nuclear program, Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is on a tour of several Latin American countries, hoping to capitalize on cross-continent solidarity with nations with similar anti-hegemonic stances to minimize the impact of the Western onslaught of sanctions and military threats.

Ahmadinejad met Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Monday in Caracas on his first stop of a tour that will also take him to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.

Chavez commented that Iran faced "US warmongering threats", adding that "we are very worried" over the pressure being placed

on Iran by the United States and its allies. "They present us as aggressors," he said.

The US media is awash with scornful depictions of Ahmadinejad's Latin trip, such as calling it a "tour of tyrants".

"What the empire does makes you laugh," Chavez stated on Venezuelan TV ahead of Ahmadinejad's arrival, perhaps with a degree of legitimacy, given that the US has called Iran's announcement of starting uranium enrichment at a new underground facility near the city of Qom as a "provocation".

In fact, the site is under the inspection regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and any military diversion - as some say is happening in Iran - would be readily detected by the United Nations' atomic watchdog.

It little matters that the US has recently set up new uranium enrichment facilities that are not even inspected by the IAEA, and the fact that the US, France and Britain give themselves the license to modernize their nuclear arsenals while at the same time holding the banner of counter-proliferation around the world; this speaks volumes about the unjust and hierarchical nature of today's global politics.

In a sign of Iran's impatience with the US's coercive policy - including a move to curb countries from dealing with its central bank - Tehran has imposed the death penalty on an Iranian-American accused of spying.

Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, was sentenced to death on Monday after being convicted of espionage for the US Central Intelligence Agency. The former marine had been detained last August in Iran. Hopefully tempers on both sides will subside and the sentence will be commuted.

Red carpet in Latin America
What binds countries such as Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia is their shared antinomy to a rigid Western domination of international affairs to the detriment of the majority of the world community that are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which is slated to be led by Iran in 2012; the summit of NAM leaders in Iran was initially schedule for mid-summer but reportedly has been postponed.

A number of hegemonic mouthpieces in the West have recently penned that the West should try to knock NAM out of existence when Iran assumes its presidency.

Yet NAM is a viable, and vital, source of anti-hegemony, a building bloc of Third World politics at a crucial time when the unbound Western powers and their military alliances, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), are taking advantage of the Middle East turmoil to expand their influence. This they are doing by reverting to old neo-colonial policies, reflected in the recent assault on Libya and the quest for control of Libyan oil.

At this critical juncture, the battle over Iran is indeed a litmus test of the NAM's independence and will to fight back and keep at bay the tsunami of coercive Western hegemony, rationalized by a whole army of Western academics and media pundits.

It is clear that the Western struggle against Iran is tightly connected to the hegemonic powers' attempt to consolidate their hold on world affairs and to deliver a powerful jab to the widening net of the NAM, which openly contests the nuclear club nations' failure to implement their responsibilities toward disarmament under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In other words, if the US, France and Britain and their neo-imperialist partners achieve their objectives against Iran, that is, first weakening the country economically and then ripening it for outright invasion and military assault, that would be a lethal blow to the global counter-hegemonic alliance that includes the Latin nations mentioned above.

But, by all indications, the new, post-Cold War order is beyond the pale of pure hegemony, and both the NAM and the mushrooming of new regional formations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China and Russia, reflect a more complex and heterogeneous global reality more akin to multi-polarism than Western-centric pure and simple.

As a result, it is far from given that the combined weight of Western pressure on Iran will succeed in isolating it and consigning it to become another Iraq or Libya.

For one thing, Iran's military power is far more advanced - its naval power in the Persian Gulf alone is capable of delivering major blows to enemy attacks, imperiling oil transfers out of the narrow waterways of the Strait of Hormuz - thus making the Western military option on Iran a costly one for Western economies. In turn, this allows Iran to play brinksmanship, much to the chagrin of hegemonic mouthpieces in the Western media.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

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