Secretary-General Ban Goes to Tehran

On February 17, 2012 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/175 on the "Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran."  It expressed deep concern at the ongoing and recurring human rights violations in Iran related to, among many things, torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations.  The resolution called on the government of Iran to address the substantive concerns expressed and to respect fully its human rights obligations.

Few could seriously believe that Iran was likely to do what the resolution requested, but at least the international community had publicly expressed concern about the misdeeds of the country.  It therefore comes as a surprise that Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary-general, plans to attend the 16th summit meeting of the non-aligned nations in Tehran, Iran on August 29-31, 2012.  

The non-aligned group consists of 120 member-states and 21 observer countries, though only 31 heads of state and ten foreign ministers are scheduled to attend the conference.  Curiously, Ban Ki-moon, the diplomatically experienced South Korean national, partly educated at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, comes from a country that is not a member-state of the non-aligned group.  In Tehran he will meet the head of state of North Korea, who is attending the conference.

No one can doubt the good intentions of the secretary-general, but it is his judgment on the issue of his presence in Tehran that is questionable.  He believes, although Resolution 66/175 was clear on the matter, that his attendance will be an opportunity to convey the concerns and expectations of the international community.  These would include issues such as the nuclear program of Iran, terrorism, human rights, and the crisis in Syria.  The secretary-general plans to meet and have "meaningful and fruitful discussions" with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The secretary-general has expressed varying opinions on Middle East issues.  During his visit to Israel in January 2012, he urged Israel to stop settlement construction and to offer goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, without similar advice about gestures to be made by the Palestinians.  However, more recently he expressed disappointment at the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Council to "single out only specific regional item (concerning Israel) given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world."  Considering the relentless hostility and animosity of the UNHRC for many years towards Israel, and its pathological obsession with Israel without paying more than minimal heed to other countries, Ban's remarks might be deemed a diplomatic understatement.

Mr. Ban, after the ignominious withdrawal of the U.N. observer mission on Syria in August 2012, has urged a "flexible U.N. presence in Syria."  With television cameras daily portraying the slaughter in Syria, it is difficult to take seriously his belief that a presence of this kind, whatever it entails, will provide the U.N. impartial means to assess the situation on the ground.  The secretary-general must be aware that Syria is being supplied with weapons by Iran.

The great French diplomat Talleyrand might have said of Ban Ki-moon's visit to Tehran, "It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake."  The organization of a group of non-aligned nations is on its face a mistake, and the idea of Iran's leaders hosting a meeting of this kind is unacceptable.

The non-aligned movement was founded in Belgrade in September 1961 during the Cold War.  Its initial members argued that they were independent of the rival powers, the United States and the Soviet Union.  In fact, however, their policies and actions were more partial to the Russians than to the Americans, frequently criticizing the U.S. as colonialist and aggressive.

Now that the Cold War has been over for twenty years, there is no rational raison d'être for a non-aligned movement, but it persists as a group with constant criticism of Western democracies.  In particular, almost all of its members have voted in international bodies, in which they constitute two thirds of the membership, for resolutions critical of the U.S. and of the state of Israel.  This is not the appropriate venue for an even-handed U.N. secretary-general or for genuine non-partisan discussion.

More important is the fact that Mr. Ban is giving legitimacy to the regime of Iran and its leaders, individuals who have violated U.N. obligations and been a destabilizing force in the Middle East.  It is particularly unlikely that his diplomatic efforts can persuade the Iranian leaders to halt their nuclear program and the ambition to develop atomic weapons.  The country has already refused on a number of occasions  to halt its nuclear enrichment program.

Mr. Ban is aware of offensive verbal criticisms of Israel by the Iranian leaders.  He should be reminded of the full extent of those verbal remarks made by both the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahamedinejad.  Some of the choice remarks by the latter should be in Mr. Ban's briefcase.  The president stated that "the very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind and an affront to all nations in the world."  His threat is clear: the Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor and must be wiped out.  There will be no Zionist regime, and no domination by the United States, in the new map of the Middle East.

Secretary-General Ban, Tehran is no place for you to visit.

Michael Curtis is the author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation under attack by the International Community.