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Terrorism & Security

UN chief plans to attend summit in Iran, drawing both support and fire

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to Tehran next week to attend the summit of the Nonaligned Movement, a decision that is drawing criticism from the US and Israel.

By Staff writer / August 23, 2012

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the media during a press conference in Dili, East Timor, Wednesday, Aug. 15.

Kandhi Barnez/AP

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend next week’s summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran, drawing criticism from the United States and Israel and dealing a setback to their effort to isolate Iran.

It is not unusual for a UN secretary-general to attend a meeting of the NAM, which is made up of 120 largely developing nations. But this year's host, Iran, has a controversial nuclear program and is accused of aiding the Assad regime in Syria and threatening the existence of Israel, prompting many Western leaders, politicians, and NGOs to express disapproval of Mr. Ban's decision to attend.

"The fact that the meeting is happening in a country that's in violation of so many of its international obligations and posing a threat to neighbors ... sends a very strange signal with regard to support for the international order, rule of law, etc.," US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke out against Ban’s attendance, saying: "To grant legitimacy, however unintentional, to a regime that openly calls for the elimination of another UN member state will stain you and the organization you lead."

But many see Iran’s contentious statements and international isolation as the very reason Ban should attend the conference, focusing on a diplomatic opportunity. Ban has raised the volume on his criticism of Iran's leadership in the leadup to the summit, just last week describing the verbal attack of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Israel as “offensive and inflammatory,” according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Ahmadinejad stated that there was no place for the Jewish state in the Middle East, and in the past has questioned whether the Holocaust of World War II actually happened. Additionally, last week, Mr. Khamenei said Israel would one day be returned to the Palestinian nation and cease to exist. 

Nonetheless, a diplomatic source anonymously told Reuters news service that the nonaligned movement is “a very important bloc of nations … [Ban] can’t not go.”

A Security Council diplomat said it was important for the secretary-general to go. He said Ban should not turn his back on the entire non-aligned movement because one member, Iran, happens to have a president who doubts the Holocaust and questions Israel's right to exist.

A UN spokesman said the NAM represents two-thirds of UN member states, reports a second Reuters story.

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