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UN chief to attend controversial summit in Iran

Thursday, August 23, 2012    

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the summit of the Nonaligned Movement of mainly developing countries in Tehran next week despite strong opposition from Israel and Jewish groups outraged at Iran's calls for the destruction of Israel, the UN announced yesterday.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban will participate in the August 29-31 summit because he is determined to carry out his responsibilities to the 120-member organisation and to raise directly with Iran's leaders the threat to Israel's existence, which violates the UN Charter's requirement that member states refrain from threatening other states.

Ban also plans to convey the international community's expectations that Iran make urgent progress on issues including the country's controversial nuclear programme, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria, Nesirky said.

"While there, the secretary-general can speak on behalf of the entire international community to make clear directly to the Iranian leadership what the world expects from Tehran and to encourage positive and constructive responses," he said.

Nesirky said Ban is "fully aware of the sensitivities" of the visit, but not going "would be a missed opportunity."

He said the secretary-general expects to have "meaningful and fruitful discussions" with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other senior officials.

The Nonaligned Movement was founded in Belgrade in 1961 at the height of the Cold War by countries that considered themselves independent of the main power blocs at the time led by the Soviet Union and the United States. It has grown over the past 50 years and Iran was elected as NAM's current chair, replacing Egypt.

Nesirky said NAM includes some two-thirds of the UN's member states, and it is customary for the secretary-general to attend the organization's summit to address key global issues.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he called Ban and warned him that travelling to Iran "would be a horrible mistake."

"To grant legitimacy, however unintentional, to a regime that openly calls for the elimination of another UN member state will stain you and the organisation you lead," Netanyahu said.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Ban's participation in the Tehran summit would "not send a good signal." After the announcement yesterday that Ban would go, she called on the secretary-general to put his visit to good use and "say directly to Iran's leaders what the international community's concerns are."

The US remains concerned that Iran "is going to manipulate this opportunity and the attendees to try to deflect attention from its own failings," Nuland said. "This is a country that is in violation of all kinds of UN obligations and has been destabilizing force."

The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions in an attempt to push Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a key process for producing nuclear weapons.

The US and its European allies believe Iran is aiming to become a nuclear power. Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium under international law and that its programme is for the peaceful purposes of producing electricity and isotopes for medical use.

The last round of top-level nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — fizzled on June 19, but neither side wants to give up on the talks.

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