(photo credit: AP)
Incoming Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that Iran's call for Israel's destruction and its dismissal of the Nazi Holocaust were "unacceptable," and he expressed concern at the regional and global implications of Teheran's nuclear program.
In the strongest comments at a news conference after being sworn in as the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations, the former South Korean foreign minister urged all countries to reject calls for the elimination of any state or people.
He was asked about Iran's nuclear program immediately after a question about North Korea's nuclear weapons and indicated that Teheran's nuclear ambitions posed a greater problem than Pyongyang's. Ki-moon dealt extensively with efforts to dismantle the North's nuclear weapons program as foreign minister and said the issue would remain "a high priority" in his new job.
Ki-moon will take the reins of the United Nations on Jan. 1 when Secretary-General Kofi Annan steps down after 10 years at the helm.
Asked about Iran's calls to wipe Israel off the map and its denial of the Holocaust, Ki-moon said, "Denying historical facts, especially on such an important fact as the Holocaust, is just not acceptable, nor is it acceptable to call for the elimination of any state or people."
"I would like to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and practice by all the members of the international community," he said.
An Israeli reporter noted that the United Nations was founded after World War II because of the Holocaust and asked Ki-moon whether the UN was going to address the issue of Holocaust deniers.
Ki-moon noted that Annan had visited Iran and discussed the issue with the Iranian leadership and others.
His swearing-in ceremony at the General Assembly followed a two-day conference in Teheran organized by the country's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for people who question and deny the Holocaust. At Tuesday's opening, Ahmadinejad said Israel will one day be "wiped out" just as the Soviet Union was.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly referred to the Holocaust as a "myth" used to impose the state of Israel on the Arab world. His anti-Israeli rhetoric has been aimed at rallying anti-Western supporters at home and abroad, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.
The Teheran conference was touted by participants and organizers as an exercise in academic freedom and a chance to openly consider whether 6 million Jews really died in the Holocaust, away from Western taboos and the restrictions imposed on scholars in Europe, where some countries have made it a crime to deny the Nazi genocide during World War II.
"Whenever, and when and if situation requires me to do, I'm also prepared to engage in dialogue with the Iranian leadership people," he said.
As for Iran's nuclear program, Ki-moon noted that the UN Security Council is currently discussing a resolution that would impose sanctions on Teheran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment.
"I hope that the issue can be resolved at the negotiating table in a timely manner," he said.
"I think that this Iranian nuclear development issue presents a much greater implications on the situation in the region and globally," Ban said without elaborating.
"Therefore I would urge the authorities of Iran to engage in negotiations as they had been with European Union plus the three countries" that have also been involved, the US, Russia and China, he said.
"The most desirable way is to resolve ... all the pending issues in a peaceful way."