Ban to attend confab in Iran despite Israeli calls

UN chief announces he will attend Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran despite US and Israeli opposition.

Ban and Ahmadinejad 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ban and Ahmadinejad 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision Wednesday to go to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) summit will make it more difficult for him and others to convince Israel to give diplomacy more time in dealing with Iran, government officials said.
The official said this was a “bad day for all those who wanted to see the exercise of vibrant diplomacy” end the Iranian crisis, because Ban’s visit will decrease Iran’s isolation and render hollow the argument that all peaceful means are being used – including diplomatic isolation – to press Tehran.
“This undermines the diplomatic pressure,” the official said. “Iran will view this as a victory, and say that as a result they are not isolated.
On the contrary, the leadership will be able to tell their people that international leaders are visiting their capital.”
By deciding to attend the conference, Ban has turned a deaf ear to direct appeals from the US and Israel, who urged him not to go.
A statement issued by his office said Ban will visit Tehran from August 29-31 and “looks forward” to the summit and working with the visiting leaders, “including the host country,” towards solutions on issues that are “central to the global agenda.”
The statement said Ban “takes seriously his responsibility and that of the United Nations to pursue diplomatic engagement with all of its member states in the interest of peacefully addressing vital matters of peace and security.”
His decision to attend the conference comes just days after he condemned the Iranian leadership’s recent “offensive and inflammatory” comments about Israel.
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“The secretary-general is dismayed by the remarks threatening Israel’s existence attributed over the last two days to the supreme leader and the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the UN press office said over the weekend.
Wednesday’s statement said that Ban would use his visit to “convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community on the issues for which cooperation and progress are urgent, for both regional stability and the welfare of the Iranian people. These include Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a phone conversation with Ban two weeks ago, implored him to stay away from the conference, saying his presence would grant legitimacy to the regime at a time when it needed to be isolated. He said Ban’s visit now would be a “horrible mistake” that would forever stain both Ban and the UN.
“Mr. Secretary-General, your place is not in Tehran,” Netanyahu told Ban.
Netanyahu came under some criticism at the time for publicizing what he said in the conversation. Some also argued that he backed Ban into a corner, and that if the secretary-general then decided not to go he would appear to be doing Israel’s bidding.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office rejected that criticism, saying it was important to make this message public and that Netanyahu did not violate any diplomatic codes by making public what he – not what Ban – said in the conversation.
On Monday US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also called on Ban to stay away from the conference.
“Iran is going to try to manipulate this NAM summit and the attendees to advance its own agenda, and to obscure the fact that it is failing to live up to multiple obligations that it has to the UN Security Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international bodies,” she said.
Indeed, Iran’s official FARS news agency quoted the vicechairman of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, Mansour Haqiqatpour, as saying the summit “will promote the Islamic Republic’s political face and also serve as a good political backup for Iran in its future talks” with the world powers negotiating over the nuclear program.
He also said the summit would boost the Iranian economy, and that the presence of senior world officials would “prepare the bed for bilateral and multilateral negotiations to help Iran bypass the [Western] sanctions, establish joint banks, set up transportation and transit networks, and other areas of economic cooperation.”
Meanwhile, US Jewish organizations – which launched an effort to try and persuade Ban to stay away – slammed the decision to attend.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, issued a statement saying “we are stunned” that Ban “would honor a regime that consistently ignores both him and the world body he heads in ways that threaten regional and global security.”
Iran, at the meeting, will assume the rotating chairmanship of the 120-member organization for the next three years.