Amid widespread criticism of his decision to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran this week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was expected to raise issues of human rights and Iran’s nuclear programme in his talks with the country’s leaders.
Mr Ban arrived on Wednesday morning at the summit, attended by politicians from the 102-nation NAM, which the Iranian regime has been trying to use as proof that American-led efforts to diplomatically isolate it had failed.
Iranians were given a day off, schools were closed and the entire conference area in Tehran was cordoned off for the arrival of an estimated 7,000 delegates including around 50 heads of state from around the world.
Iran’s intentions were clear at the opening ceremony on Monday when its Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, called on the delegations to reject US sanctions on Iran. The timing of the summit, on the eve of the publication of another report by the International Atomic Energy Agency — expected to contain new details of Iran’s nuclear progress — was significant.
US and Israeli pressure on Mr Ban not to take part in the NAM summit included a phone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but sources close to the UN Secretary General stressed that he could not snub a summit with representatives of a majority of UN states.
However, Mr Ban’s spokesman said on Tuesday he would discuss human rights, Iran’s nuclear programme and the conflict in Syria during his talks with Supreme Leader Ali Khameini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Some Western diplomats have dismissed the importance of the NAM summit. The Non-Aligned Movement currently plays little role of consequence in international affairs, the only European nation currently a member is Belarus, whose President, Alexander Lukashenko, was barred from attending the Olympics opening ceremony last month due to his government’s human rights record.
More significant, though, is the short visit of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who arrived on Thursday in Tehran, to officially hand over the rotating NAM presidency from Egypt to Iran. Mr Morsi’s spokesman stressed, however, that he would not be holding bilateral talks with the Iranian leadership and that upgrading diplomatic relations between the countries, cut off since 1979 following Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, was not under consideration.