U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit Iran next week to attend a summit meeting of leaders of non-aligned developing nations, a U.N. spokesman said on Wednesday, despite the calls of both Israel and the U.S. for Ban to boycott the gathering.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Ban "will use the opportunity to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community. These include Iran's nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria."
An Israeli diplomatic official criticized Ban's decision.
"It is very unfortunate that the U.N. secretary-general is giving legitimacy to the leaders of a country that only a few days ago called for the destruction of Israel and the elimination of Zionism," the official said.
"This conference will doubtless be exploited by the Iranian regime for propaganda purposes and will try to create the impression of legitimacy for its policies," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP on Thursday.
"We expect all those who decide to go there to be aware of such manipulation and to take care not to fall into the trap," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Ban earlier this month he would be making "a big mistake" if he attended the summit, AFP reported.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice also advised Ban against going, diplomats said.
Ban will be in Tehran Aug. 29-31 for the summit of 120 non-aligned nations and will hold bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials.
Ban is "fully aware of the sensitivities" linked to his visit, but he is also aware of his responsibilities as head of the U.N., Nesirky said, noting that non-aligned nations comprise two-thirds of all U.N. member states.
One of Ban's responsibilities is "to pursue diplomatic engagement with all ... [U.N.] member states in the interest of peacefully addressing vital matters of peace and security," Nesirky said.
He added that Ban hoped to have "meaningful and fruitful discussions" with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top members of the Iranian government.
A U.N. Security Council diplomat told Reuters that it was important for the secretary-general to go to the summit. He said Ban should not turn his back on the entire Non-Aligned Movement because one member, Iran, happens to have a president who doubts the Holocaust and questions Israel's right to exist.
The head of the nongovernmental organization U.N. Watch slammed Ban's planned trip.
“By going to Tehran’s propaganda summit, the U.N. secretary-general is abdicating his moral voice at a crucial time, and sending absolutely the wrong signal,” said Hillel Neuer said.
“Mr. Ban's spokesman today invoked so-called diplomatic responsibilities. But diplomacy cannot trump decency," Neuer continued, noting that the announcement of Ban's trip to Iran came on the same day that the Security Council heard a top-level U.N. report on Iran's complicity in the Syrian regime's killing of its own people.
“Iran practices international terrorism, subjugates women, persecutes minorities, rapes dissidents, rigs elections, denies the Holocaust, and disregards U.N. resolutions to halt its illegal nuclear weapons program," Neuer said. "Mr. Ban’s visit wrongly hands legitimacy and propaganda points to the forces of repression in Tehran, and their chief ally in Damascus.”
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, but Western powers and their allies fear it is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Ban will raise this issue and Iranian leaders' anti-Israel remarks at bilateral meetings with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the non-aligned summit, envoys said.
Iran has been hit with four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to halt its nuclear enrichment program.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will also attend the summit, making him the first Egyptian head of state to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Meanwhile, Iran's deputy ambassador to the U.N. has sent a letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council saying that Israel's threats to strike Iran's nuclear facilities represent a "blatant violation" of the U.N. charter and international law, Iran's Press TV reported on Thursday.
“The officials of the Zionist regime (Israel) have threatened to use force against the Islamic Republic of Iran based on false assumptions and unjustifiably regard as urgent an attack on our country’s nuclear facilities,” Es’haq Ale-Habib wrote. "Iran once again condemns the provocative, irresponsible, and unjustifiable remarks by the prime minister, minister of military affairs and the other officials of the Israeli regime who constantly threaten Iran with a military strike, and expresses its deep concern over such statements."
Ale-Habib wrote that Iran does not intend to attack other countries but would “adopt proper defensive measures to protect itself.”