Iran Says U.N. Chief Has Withdrawn From Its ‘Non-Aligned’ Summit

By Patrick Goodenough | August 19, 2012 | 8:13pm EDT

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad performs the “tawaf” ritual, walking seven times around the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, during a visit to Saudi Arabia last week. (Photo: Iranian presidency)

( – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pulled out of the Non-Aligned Movement summit being hosted by Iran next week, a senior Iranian politician said Sunday, two days after Ban condemned as “offensive and inflammatory” Iranian leaders’ statements threatening Israel.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani was quoted by the official IRNA press agency as saying Ban’s “withdrawal” would not cause any problems for the Aug. 26-31 summit.

Noting that NAM member states have a “big share” in the U.N., Larijani said it would have been beneficial for Ban to attend. NAM’s 120 members account for almost two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly.

Attempts to get confirmation from Ban’s official spokesman were unsuccessful late Sunday. (It’s a long weekend at the U.N., which observes the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on Monday.)

U.N. spokesmen have for the past two weeks repeatedly refused to answer questions about Ban’s intentions regarding Iran’s invitation – most recently during a daily press conference on Friday, when deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said “no comment” three times.

The Obama administration said Thursday Ban’s participation at the summit would “not send a good signal,” but did not publicly urge him not to go. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier appealed to Ban to stay away.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is hosting a gathering of the bloc of developing nations, and assuming its rotating chair for the next three years. Critics have questioned both the appropriateness of Ban attending, as well as the participation of NAM members, particularly those with close ties to the United States.

Iranian politicians have trumpeted its hosting of the summit and NAM chairmanship as evidence that U.S.-led efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear activities and support for terror are failing.

As Iran on Friday marked the annual day of anti-Israeli invective known as Quds (Jerusalem) Day, Ahmadinejad lashed out at Israel, calling it a “cancerous tumor” and accusing Jews of engineering World Wars I and II.

“The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world nations,” IRNA quoted him as saying in a speech. “A new Middle East will definitely be formed. With the grace of Allah and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists.”

Ban spokesman Martin Nesirky issued a statement Friday saying the secretary-general was “dismayed by the remarks threatening Israel’s existence attributed over the last two days to the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also due to address the NAM gathering next week] and the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

He said Ban “condemns these offensive and inflammatory statements” and “believes that all leaders in the region should use their voices at this time to lower, rather than to escalate, tensions.”

“In accordance with the United Nations Charter, all members must refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan on Friday cited Ahmadinejad’s comments during a campaign appearance in Springfield, Va.

“In the past day, Iran’s president called our ally Israel, quote, a cancerous tumor that must be excised,” he said.  “Let me be really clear. Under President Romney, our adversaries will think twice about challenging America and our allies because we believe in peace through strength. There will be no daylight between America and our friends around the world. Strong national defense, peace through strength, strong relationship with our allies.”

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Reza Forqani told reporters Saturday that 35 NAM members would be represented by their heads of state, five by vice-presidents, 21 by foreign ministers, and others by special envoys, ministers or ambassadors – about 100 in total.

Among those who will attend is Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, paying the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to Egypt’s state news agency MENA.

A senior leader in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, politburo chief General Yadollah Javani, was quoted at the weekend as saying Iran’s hosting of the summit would “defuse” threats against the country. He urged Iranian officials to clinch economic deals on the summit sidelines to thwart the effect of Western sanctions.

“The Westerners know well that the hosting of the summit by Tehran will improve the Islamic Republic’s status in the region and the globe and will demonstrate to the world that Iran enjoys full stability and security,” lawmaker Ali Akbar Aqaei said Sunday, according to state-funded Press TV.

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