Middle East

Iran bolsters friendships abroad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (fifth from left) stands next to fellow D8 leaders in Abuja (8 July 2010)
Image caption The D8 grouping of developing nations includes some significant regional powers

The US and its European allies like to see Iran as an increasingly isolated country; its economy hobbled more and more by economic sanctions and with the pressure growing weekly.

There is no doubt that Iran is to a large extent isolated from key markets and that the sanctions are beginning to act as a significant brake on its economy.

This was already in a bad way due to mismanagement and structural problems.

Iran's inability, for example, to import Western technology for its oil and gas industry is seriously reducing its ability to exploit this vital natural asset over time.

However, as this week's gathering of the Developing 8 (D8) in Nigeria shows, there is isolation and there is isolation.

Strong sympathy

Iran is no North Korea. It maintains strong economic ties with both Russia and China.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is something of a globetrotter, pursuing an active diplomacy in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Balkans.

Image caption Iran insists that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes

The D8 gathering brings together a diverse collection of countries, including a number who are significant players in their own regions - Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.

All are predominantly Muslim countries or have large Muslim populations.

While principally a trading or economic grouping, politics is never really far away and they are set to give a resounding endorsement of the need for all countries to be able to secure the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy.

This will be taken by Iran as an endorsement of its efforts to master various nuclear technologies. It insists that this is for civil, not military, purposes.

The meeting underlines the fact that many governments - especially in the developing world - still have strong sympathy for Iran's aims.

They view its battle with the United Nations Security Council over the enrichment of uranium in very different terms from those perceived in Washington and European capitals.

Dynamic diplomacy

The meeting highlights the fact too that Iran has a dynamic and active diplomacy of its own; something that is often forgotten with the focus on US coalition-building to back each new round of UN-imposed sanctions.

Image caption Mr Ahmadinejad received a warm reception from the D8 delegates

At many levels Iran's diplomacy has actually been quite successful.

It recently engaged with two of the key emerging regional powers - Turkey and Brazil. They had intervened to try to find a compromise deal that would enable the fuelling of a research reactor in Iran used to produce medical isotopes.

The US and its supporters would argue that it is wrong to see its differences with Iran as a battle between Tehran and the West.

It is, after all, the demands of the UN - the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Security Council - with which Iran is failing to comply.

But that is not how it is seen in many parts of the world and Mr Ahmadinejad's warm reception among the D8 is evidence that many still have a very different view of Iran and its nuclear struggles.

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