Secretaries General Are Supposed to Visit Politically Difficult Countries!

There has been much grumbling over Ban Ki Moon’s decision to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran next week. The USA and Israel made explicit that they did not want Ban to attend. Alas, the Non-Aligned movement is an important voting block at the United Nations and a significant part of its membership. (About one third of UN member states are in NAM).  Should the meeting have been held anywhere but Iran, Ban’s participation would barely raise an eyebrow.

This year, though, Iran happens to be hosting this year’s summit so, “controversy” here we come.

The thing is, this should not be controversial at all. Though inarguably pro-American, Ban Ki Moon does not represent the interests of any country — he represents the whole of the international community. And while in Iran, Ban will use the opportunity to speak directly to Iranian leaders about the international community’s ongoing concerns. Specifically, he is planning to highlight the very issues that Iran would probably like to be played down.

“With respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Secretary-General will use the opportunity to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “These include Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria.”

This is how it is supposed to work. Ban is in the business of diplomacy. A visit by Ban Ki Moon to a country like Iran (or Sudan, North Korea, or anywhere else) is  not a “reward” to be conferred; neither is Ban’s avoiding a country a form of punishment. He is a diplomat. Travelling to politically difficult places is what he does. He conveys messages, asks for clarifications, raises concerns and shares his discussions with relevant parties.

That’s what he will be doing in Iran next week. And there is probably no more important time for Ban Ki Moon to open a direct dialogue with Iran’s leaders than now, when the stakes are so high.