The attendance of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran this week was criticized by the United States and Israel. Nevertheless, Mr. Ban and new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have turned the meeting into a forum for sharp talk on Iran and Syria.
Some 120 nations are represented in Tehran, including heads of state from 29 countries. Iran had the intention, by hosting the meeting, to try to build a reputation as a major international player and even, perhaps, make it harder for Israel and the United States to target it for a military attack. Although such conferences are known for the mouthing of many platitudes in formal speeches, Mr. Ban and Mr. Morsi surprised and annoyed their hosts with some pointed public remarks on Israel, Syria and Iran itself.
The U.N. chief said he had raised with Iranian leaders his "serious concerns on the human rights abuses and violations in this country." This was a reference to the heavy-handed tactics Iran has used in recent years' elections as well as its practices in human rights, including freedom of the press. Such criticisms of the ayatollahs' regime are normally expressed only outside the country.
Mr. Ban also hit hard on Iranian footdragging on its nuclear program. He called for Tehran's full compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. On Iranian officials' regular denials of the Holocaust and threats against Israel, as well as Israeli threats against Iran, Mr. Ban said he rejected any promise by one U.N. member state to destroy another and "outrageous comments to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust." Warning against war between the two, he said, "Bluster can so easily become bloodshed."
In tune with Mr. Ban's tough talk, Mr. Morsi called the violence in Syria a "revolution" against its "oppressive regime" and urged support for the rebels. Yet Iran is one of the few remaining allies of Syria's beleaguered Bashar Assad regime, and Egypt and Syria were once so close that they formed the United Arab Republic from 1958 to 1961.
The Syrian delegation at the Tehran gathering, headed by Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi, walked out over Mr. Morsi's comments, retreating further from dialogue.