UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the summit of the Nonaligned Movement of mainly developing countries in Tehran next week despite strong opposition from Israel and Jewish groups outraged at Iran's calls for the destruction of Israel, the U.N. announced Wednesday.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban will participate in the Aug. 29-31 summit because he is determined to carry out his responsibilities to the 120-member organization and to raise directly with Iran's leaders the threat to Israel's existence, which violates the U.N. Charter's requirement that member states refrain from threatening other states.
Ban also plans to convey the international community's expectations that Iran make urgent progress on issues including the country's controversial nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria, Nesirky said.
"While there, the secretary-general can speak on behalf of the entire international community to make clear directly to the Iranian leadership what the world expects from Tehran and to encourage positive and constructive responses," he said.
Nesirky said Ban is "fully aware of the sensitivities" of the visit, but not going "would be a missed opportunity."
He said the secretary-general expects to have "meaningful and fruitful discussions" with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other senior officials.
The Nonaligned Movement was founded in Belgrade in 1961 at the height of the Cold War by countries that considered themselves independent of the main power blocs at the time led by the Soviet Union and the United States. It has grown over the past 50 years and Iran was elected as NAM's current chair, replacing Egypt.
Nesirky said NAM includes some two-thirds of the U.N.'s member states, and it is customary for the secretary-general to attend the organization's summit to address key global issues.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he called Ban and warned him that traveling to Iran "would be a horrible mistake."
"To grant legitimacy, however unintentional, to a regime that openly calls for the elimination of another U.N. member state will stain you and the organization you lead," Netanyahu said.
Jewish organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, B'Nai B'rith International, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, also urged Ban not to go.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Ban's participation in the Tehran summit would "not send a good signal." After the announcement Wednesday that Ban would go, she called on the secretary-general to put his visit to good use and "say directly to Iran's leaders what the international community's concerns are."
The U.S. remains concerned that Iran "is going to manipulate this opportunity and the attendees to try to deflect attention from its own failings," Nuland said. "This is a country that is in violation of all kinds of U.N. obligations and has been destabilizing force."
The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions in an attempt to push Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a key process for producing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and its European allies believe Iran is aiming to become a nuclear power. Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium under international law and that its program is for the peaceful purposes of producing electricity and isotopes for medical use.
The last round of top-level nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — fizzled on June 19, but neither side wants to give up on the talks.
Iran is seeking relief from sanctions, including recently enacted international embargoes on oil, its main source of revenue. The six powers fear that the failure of negotiations could prompt Israel to make good on its threat to attack Tehran's nuclear installations — a move that could draw Washington into the conflict.
Nuland said Ban and others attending the Tehran summit should address Iran's nuclear obligations and the opportunity the country has through negotiations "to begin to come clean on their nuclear program and to solve this particular issue diplomatically."
Tensions between Iran and Israel have intensified since 2005, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech that Israel will one day be "wiped off the map." The Iranian president has also described the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, as a "myth."
Israel considers Iran an existential threat. Israeli leaders have indicated an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is a possibility if they conclude that the international community has failed to halt Iran's nuclear program.
Iran's charge d'affaires at the U.N., Ambassador Eshagh Al Habib, sent a letter to the secretary-general Wednesday strongly condemning Israel's threats to attack Iran's nuclear facilities as a "flagrant violation" of the U.N. Charter and efforts to strengthen global peace.
Al Habib said it is ironic that Western leaders and the U.N. Security Council have not reacted to "the inflammatory remarks and baseless allegations leveled against Iran's peaceful nuclear program." He reiterated that the Iranian government "has no intention to attack any other nations" but will not hesitate to act in self-defense if attacked.
Associated Press Writers Brad Klapper in Washington and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report