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Non-aligned summit kicks off amid controversy

Egypt's Mohamed Morsi has opened the summit of non-aligned countries in Tehran and embarrassed his hosts. Making the first visit by an Egyptian leader in three decades, he spoke out against Iran’s position on Syria.

Mohamad Morsi compared the conflict in Syria to recent developments in his own country.

"The revolution in Egypt is the cornerstone for the Arab Spring, which started days after Tunisia and then it was followed by Libya and Yemen and now the revolution in Syria against its oppressive regime," he said.

In stating this, he contradicted the position of the Syrian regime and its closest ally, Iran, that the Syrian uprising was a "terrorist" plot masterminded by the United States and other countries.

The Syrian delegation walked out as Morsi delivered his comments.

Earlier on Thursday Mohamed Morsi had received a red carpet welcome for his visit, which Iran had billed as a breakthrough in relations.

Diplomatic ties between Cairo and Tehran were cut off in 1979 following the revolution in Iran, because Cairo had supported the Shah and had just signed a peace agreement with Israel.

Morsi handed over the rotating presidency of the Non-Aligned movement (NAM) to Iran at the beginning of the two-day Tehran summit.

NAM was founded at the time of the Cold War in 1961 as a grouping independent of the then-rival Western and Soviet blocs. It has 120 members, mainly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

UN chief criticises Iran

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is also attending the summit in Tehran, reprimanded Iran for its stance on Israel. He said that comments made repeatedly by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad denying the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist were “outrageous”.

"I strongly reject any threat by any (UN) member state to destroy another, or outrageous comments to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust," Ban said in a speech to NAM participants.

"Claiming another UN member state does not have the right to exist or describe it in racist terms is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all promised to uphold," he added.

Iran had hoped the summit would help to show that it has not been isolated as a result of criticism by the United States and other countries for its nuclear policy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has just launched a new Iran "task force" to scrutinise Tehran's nuclear programme and its compliance with UN resolutions. Iran is suspected to be conducting expanded enrichment for military purposes.

The controversy on Syria, and Iran's nuclear ambitions are now overshadowing the meeting, which is being attended by 29 heads of state or government, including those of Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority.

rg/ipj (dpa, Reuters, AFP)