Defying western calls, UN chief Ban visits Iran

Defying western calls, UN chief Ban visits Iran

TEHRAN - Agence France-Presse
Defying western calls, UN chief Ban visits Iran

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (2nd L) speaks to an aid during a meeting wit Iran’s Parliament speaker Ali Larijani (R) in Tehran. Ban is scheduled to attend summit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states which starts today. AFP photo

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon met Iran’s top leaders in Tehran yesterday on a visit hailed by the Islamic republic as a diplomatic coup over arch-foes United States and Israel. 

Ban, who was to go on to attend a summit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states today and tomorrow in Tehran, was said to be determined to use his trip to call for Iran to take “urgent” action over its disputed nuclear drive, its human rights record and the conflict in its ally Syria. “Iran has a crucially important role in the region, especially when it comes to Syria. I am going to discuss this with (Iran’s) supreme leader,” he told reporters on his arrival. Ban was to meet Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili later yesterday, Iranian media said. He began his visit by briefly seeing Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani.

Media hails the visit

Although the U.N. secretary general is a regular attendee at NAM summits, both the United States and Israel criticized his presence in Tehran. The U.S. State Department said such a visit “sends a very strange signal with regard to support for the international order,” stressing that Iran was “in violation of so many of its international obligations and posing a threat to neighbours.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month told Ban he would be making “a big mistake” if he attended. Iran has seized on Ban’s presence as a victory over its enemies and a sign it was not so internationally isolated as the United States has portrayed.

Overeager Iranian government officials and state media jumped the gun by saying Ban had arrived in Tehran more than two hours earlier than he actually did. 

State television showed Ban being greeted effusively by Iranian officials waiting for him on the red carpet leading up to his U.N. plane. Iran is engaged in a deepening showdown with the United States and the rest of the UN Security Council over its disputed nuclear program.