State Dep’t Declines to Reproach U.N. Chief for Decision to Visit Iran

Patrick Goodenough | August 23, 2012 | 4:22am EDT
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U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on April 7, 2011. (UN Photo by Eskinder Debebe)

( – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to take part in an international summit in Tehran despite strong U.S. misgivings again calls into question the Obama administration’s assertions that its deeper engagement with the United Nations is benefiting the United States.

An organization that depends on American taxpayers for more than one-fifth of its budget confirmed Wednesday that Ban would attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit being hosted and chaired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week.

“The secretary-general looks forward to the summit as an opportunity to work with the participating heads of state and government, including the host country, towards solutions on issues that are central to the global agenda,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.

An Iranian diplomat said Wednesday evening the summit “will unquestionably testify that Iran has not become that lonely and friendless country which the United States and its lackeys want.”

Ban’s decision drew sharp criticism from some quarters, but State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined Wednesday to reprise her earlier remark – made before Ban’s attendance was confirmed – that his participation would “not send a good signal.”

Asked several times during a press briefing whether that view still applied now that Ban has announced he will go, Nuland repeatedly demurred.

“I think we made clear our view on this at the beginning,” she said. “Now that he’s chosen to go, he has an opportunity to say directly to Iran’s leaders what the international community’s concerns are.”

The administration has made heightened engagement with the U.N. a foreign policy priority, with senior officials declaring repeatedly that doing so has advanced U.S. interests.

“The U.N. plays an indispensable role in advancing our interests and defending our values,” ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told a United Nations Association of the United States gathering in June 2011.

The administration had made progress at the U.N. “on behalf of the American people,” she said, citing areas including ending “needless American isolation on a wide range of issues.”

“As a consequence, we’ve gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest,” Rice said.

The Iranian government is characterizing its hosting of the summit and the attendance of Ban and numerous heads of state as evidence that U.S.-led efforts to isolate Iran have failed miserably.

It has signaled its intention to use the summit of developing nations to circumvent Western sanctions and rally support for its nuclear program, which it insists is peaceful.

Ahmadinejad aide Ebrahim Azizi said Wednesday the summit proved that the “satanic plots” hatched by Israel and “arrogant powers” – that is, the U.S. and Western allies – have been “futile,” the Mehr news agency reported.

“The upcoming NAM summit in Tehran is an invaluable opportunity for Iran to show its diplomatic prowess and demonstrate that it’s impossible for the bullying powers and their stooges to isolate it,” Iranian diplomat Mohammad-Reza Majidi told a press conference late Wednesday.

Ban has been embarrassed in the past for associating with events that turned out controversial.

Last year he sent a message to be read out during an Iranian government-hosted “International Conference on the Global Fight Against Terrorism,” expressing the hope that the meeting would “attain great goals.” The event saw the U.S. and Israel repeatedly condemned while Ahmadinejad repeated his earlier claims about a 9/11 conspiracy.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday Ban’s participation will “legitimize” the regime even as it continues to defy the international community over its suspect nuclear activities.

“Instead of acting to address the growing Iranian threat to international security, the U.N. is again part of the problem, not the solution,” she said. “The U.S. must make clear that we will not keep footing the bill for a U.N. that stands with the likes of Iran instead of responsible nations like the U.S. and Israel.”

Ros-Lehtinen is author of draft legislation that would enable the U.S. to fund only those U.N. agencies and activities it considers necessary, efficiently-managed and in the national interest.


U.N. spokesman in New York Martin Nesirky told reporters Ban would attend the summit and hold bilateral meetings with Ahmadinejad, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian officials.

He rejected a suggestion that the regime was using Ban as a pawn.

“The secretary-general is obviously fully aware of the sensitivities of this visit, and also he’s heard the views of some of those who’ve suggested he not go,” Nesirky said. “But at the same time, the secretary-general has responsibilities that he’s determined to carry out, both to the Non-Aligned Movement and to Iran – precisely because of the level of international concern about issues that include the country’s nuclear program, human rights and the situation in Syria.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the non-governmental organization U.N. Watch, challenged the invoking of diplomatic responsibilities.

“Diplomacy cannot trump decency,” he said. “The fact is that Mr. Ban is under no obligation to go to Tehran now – and certainly not when the mullahs are pumping weapons, funds and intelligence into the hands of Assad forces who are bombarding innocent women and children in Hama, Aleppo and Damascus, harming millions of lives.”

Jewish organizations that earlier urged Ban not to go to Tehran also reacted with dismay.

Nesirky recalled that Ban on Friday condemned “offensive and inflammatory statements” by Ahmadinejad and Khamenei directed at Israel.

Nesirky noted that under the U.N. Charter, “all member-states have a clear obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or the political independence of any other state.”

The advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which includes former U.S. ambassadors, has launched a campaign calling for Iran to be suspended from the U.N. for persistently violating the charter’s principles.

Iran’s government gave an update Wednesday on expected attendance at the summit, saying 51 NAM members had now confirmed they will participate at the level of president, prime minister, king or vice president.

According to Tehran Times they include North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

The inclusion of North Korea’s Kim on the list raised eyebrows, as he has not left the country since assuming power after the death of his father and North Korean leaders very rarely travel. South Korean media speculated that another senior North Korean, Kim Yong-nam, may go instead. Kim Yong-nam represented Pyongyang at a NAM summit hosted by Cuba in 2006.

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