U.N. Refuses Comment on Iran’s Claim That Ban Ki-moon Will Attend 120-Nation Summit in Tehran

By Patrick Goodenough | August 10, 2012 | 4:53 AM EDT

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meets with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a U.N. conference in Istanbul, Turkey on May 10, 2011. (UN Photo by Evan Schneider)

(CNSNews.com) – Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman has declined to comment on reports from Iran saying that the U.N. secretary-general plans to attend a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran later this month.

Critics say Ban’s participation would be highly inappropriate, given Iran’s regional belligerence, terror sponsorship and defiance of the international community over its suspect nuclear activities.

Iran is assuming the presidency of NAM for the next three years, and plans to use the August 26-31 summit, and its tenure at the helm of the 120-member group, to counter U.S.-led attempts to isolate the regime.

“The Non-Aligned Movement in Iran will symbolize the Islamic Republic’s strength and successful diplomacy in the international arena,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted Iranian lawmaker Abed Fattahi as saying on Thursday.

Iran’s vice-president for international affairs, Ali Saeedlou, told the semi-official Fars news agency that Ban would be participating.

He also said the West and the “Zionist regime” were trying to prevent a “magnificent” summit to thwart the promotion of Iran’s “justice-seeking” views.

The state-run IRNA news agency also reported that Ban was “expected to take part.”

Asked during a press briefing in New York Wednesday whether this was true, Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, replied, “We are obviously aware of those reports. I cannot confirm them, and I’m not going to comment on them, okay?”

Ban has come under fire in the past for allowing himself or the U.N. secretariat to be associated with events organized by the Tehran regime.

In June, the U.N. co-sponsored an event with Iran to mark the U.N.’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. A U.N. official also addressed the event, which saw another Iranian vice-president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, accuse Jews of driving global drug trafficking and various other conspiracies, including the killing of black babies.

After the remarks drew protests from the Israeli government and others, Nesirky issued a brief statement saying, “The secretary-general has on many occasions called on Iranian officials to refrain from these kinds of anti-Semitic statements. He does so again in response to these latest reported comments. He believes it is the responsibility of leaders to promote harmony and understanding and he deeply regrets expressions of hatred and religious intolerance.”

Last year a message from Ban was read out by a U.N. representative at an Iranian government-hosted “International Conference on the Global Fight Against Terrorism,” an event at which the U.S. and Israel were repeatedly condemned and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated controversial 9/11 conspiracy claims. Ban’s message expressed the hope that the conference would “attain great goals.”

‘Ignoble ends’

The 120-member NAM comprises most of the world’s developing nations, ranging from regimes hostile to the U.S., like Iran, Cuba and North Korea to allies such as Thailand and the Philippines.

A relic of the Cold War – when proponents saw the need for a group of nations ostensibly aligned with neither the West nor the communist bloc – NAM kept going after the collapse of the Soviet Union, claiming to speak on behalf of the “global south.”

Iran succeeds Egypt as the chair for the next three years, and Egypt’s two predecessors were Cuba and Malaysia. After Iran, Venezuela is set to assume the leadership in 2015.

The American Jewish Committee urged Ban on Thursday not to attend the NAM summit, citing the Iranian regime’s threats towards Israel, Holocaust denial, nuclear activities, rights abuses at home and support for terrorism abroad, and its contribution to “the ongoing barbarism in Syria.”

“We strongly urge you not to participate – and not allow a regime that flouts international law, denies human rights, practices terrorism, and preaches contemptible prejudice to exploit the prestige of the United Nations for its ignoble ends,” AJC executive director David Harris and president Robert Elman said in a letter to Ban.

The AJC said it had also sent letters to more than 100 countries’ foreign ministers, urging them not to attend.

“What Secretary General Ban ultimately decides will send a direct, critically important, message to the Iranian regime, and no doubt encourage the thinking of other world leaders,” Harris said.

According to the Iranian foreign ministry, more than 30 countries have confirmed that their heads of state or government will attend. They include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Others will be represented by foreign ministers, ambassadors or senior officials, it says.

One leader whose attendance has not been confirmed is Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Since the Muslim Brotherhood politician assumed that position in June, he has in theory been the head of NAM during the closing weeks of Egypt’s three-year presidency. According to NAM tradition, he should formally hand over the baton to his successor, Ahmadinejad.

Last week Arab media reports, citing Egyptian sources, said Morsi would not attend the summit, but Iran sent one of its vice-presidents, Hamid Baghaei, to Cairo on Tuesday to meet with the Egyptian leader and personally invite him. Morsi has not yet announced whether or not he will take up the invitation from Baghaei, the most senior Iranian official to visit Egypt for more than 30 years.

Iran had chilly relations with former president Hosni Mubarak and loathed his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the same year as Iran’s Islamic revolution.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow