Ban Ki-moon July 7, 2012 (AP)
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, July 7, 2012. Photo by AP
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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has decided to participate in the upcoming summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) scheduled to take place in Tehran at the end of the month, according to well-placed sources in New York.

Officials in Jerusalem and Washington believe that such a visit will shatter attempts to isolate the Iranian regime and will grant it renewed international legitimacy.

Israel has already conveyed its concerns to the Secretary General, saying that his visit will broadcast a message of “business as usual” to Tehran and would undercut international efforts against its nuclear drive. Responding on behalf of Ban, UN officials said that if he does decide to go, he will reiterate the UN opposition to any Iranian efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

In a carefully worded reaction, Ban’s spokesperson Martin Nesirky told Haaretz “we are aware of the reports on this matter but I cannot confirm them and I cannot comment on them.” Some officials at the UN said that Ban has yet to make up his mind whether to attend the summit or not, but other sources believe that the Secretary General  is postponing an official announcement  on his visit to Tehran until the last minute, in order to deflect external pressures to the contrary.

But knowledgeable sources confirmed to Haaretz the veracity of Iranian press reports on Ban’s expected arrival in Tehran, adding that the Secretary General’s office is already coordinating details of the visit, which is expected to last for a few days and to include meetings with both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will serve as chairman of the summit, and possibly with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

The sources added that Ban’s participation will provide an international umbrella to a conference that is slated not only to uphold Iran’s right to an independent nuclear program, but to serve as a forum for vicious attacks against Israel as well. The summit is expected to voice support for the Palestinian bid for recognition at the upcoming UN General Assembly and to blast Israel’s recent decision to prevent five NAM foreign ministers from going to Ramallah to discuss the UN moves with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The sources said that by shaking Ahmadinejad’s hand, Ban will be “crossing a red line” by legitimizing the Iranian president’s recent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tirade, in which he was quoted as saying in a Ramadan speech that "Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom.”  

The 120 states that are members of the Non Aligned Movement, along with the 17 observers, are considered to be the UN’s biggest “voting bloc”. Much of the group’s activities are coordinated by the ambassador of the country heading NAM – which, for the next three years, will be Iran. According to Iranian organizers, 31 countries will participate in the Tehran conference at the presidential or prime ministerial level, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Abdullah Gul and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The sources believe that Ban’s decision to go to Tehran at this time will exacerbate the already strained relations between the UN and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which has threatened to cut off funding for the organization. Jewish groups are also expected to vehemently protest Ban’s move.