Ban Ki-moon won’t tell you the real reason why he’s in Tehran right now. He won’t tell you he was dismayed when he did not receive an invitation to the Republican or the Democratic National Conventions, because frankly, the UN Secretary-General loves large gatherings – he does hold one every year – and he wanted to pre-game before the next General Assembly meeting.
Instead of throwing a fit, Ban decided to play a little passive-aggressive and schedule a trip to Iran for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit amidst American and Israeli pressure; not to mention the summit is conveniently sandwiched in between the RNC and DNC. “Maybe next time, I’ll get an invitation,” I imagine he never said.
Actually, it didn’t go down this way, except that Ban’s invite and subsequent RSVP was immediately denounced by most noticeably, the American and Israeli governments. The two allies were, and still are, fighting hard to keep Iran isolated among the international community for its continued nuclear program, support of international terrorist organizations and rogue regime rogue regimes, and flagrant threats to U.S. and Israeli common interests, all amid harsh sanctions.
According to the Secretary-General’s spokesman, Ban’s trip will last until Saturday and is chock-full of discussions about topics of international importance, including but not limited to the environment, developing countries, and interestingly, disarmament. The news release went on to say that Ban will raise his concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, its alleged support for the Assad regime in Syria, and its human rights record.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Ban and implored that he boycott the meeting, but to no avail. Calls from Washington asking Ban to decline were also unheeded. I guess when over 120 delegations and observers make their way to Tehran and you’re the head-honcho of the UN, you have a choice: Attend a summit where a vast majority of the world will gather or not go at the behest of the few and powerful.
Except that it’s more complicated than that. The Non-Aligned Movement – yes, it still exists – is comprised of a majority of smaller, developing nations that are critical to stability and prosperity. Yet, it also has a membership of internationally shunned states and their leaders, including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, and let’s not forget the heavily sanctioned Iranian hosts. (In all fairness, the UN is home to them, as well.)
As diplomatic correspondant Raghida Dergham notes, the NAM Summit’s appeal for Ban is the mere hope of biding time for diplomacy on the issues outlined by his spokesman and having these discussions in the Iranian homeland. Yet, she points out, there is that little detail of potentially legitimizing the Iranian leadership on the world stage because of Ban’s visit to the country.
Dergham, as well as New York Times writer Harvey Morris, submits that Ban does not want to be pressured by a few member states to not go, thereby skirting his duties as Secretary-General. As a diplomat, he wants to do what he does best … talk, negotiate, break bread, or however one wants to describe it.
But let’s not forget this trip comes as threats of war and political posturing between the Israeli and Iranian governments escalate with each day (interestingly, that Ban’s trip comes on the heels of his recent condemnation of anti-Israel remarks made by the Iranian regime). There’s also the potential that the U.S. may or may not have a new president with different feelings toward the UN (and Iran) come November.
Ban is in a precarious position. He could hit a homerun and surprise all of us with some really convincing diplomatic maneuvering and discredit all his critics. But it’s more likely that Ban, even with good intentions, will be bested at his own game and the world will go back to square one.