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Baird urges UN head to skip Tehran conference

By Jessica Murphy, Senior Washington Correspondent

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. (Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. (Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency)

OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird fears Iran will use UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's attendance at an international summit hosted by the regime for "nefarious purposes."

On Tuesday, he told reporters Ban should skip the event and "not dignify that political class with his presence."

"We're concerned his presence there will be used to bolster the regime politically and obviously we wrote in strong terms to him to encourage him - like a number of our allies did - to reflect on that before he goes," he said.

His comments follow on the heels of a letter Baird wrote to the secretary general on Aug. 23, expressing his "genuine and fundamental concerns" with Ban attending the meeting as of Wednesday,

Ban's presence has also been criticized by the U.S. and Israel, who are concerned with Iran's record on human rights and its anti-Israeli rhetoric.

All three countries are concerned his attendance gives the meting diplomatic heft it wouldn't otherwise have had.

Tehran is hosting the five-day summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. The organization, founded in 1961, is made up of 120 member states mostly from the developing world.

Iran is taking over presidency of the organization - set up as a counterweight for the international influence wielded by larger powers - for the next three years.

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, opened the summit Sunday with an attack against the economic sanction imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.

Western powers believe Tehran is building a nuclear weapon, but it maintains its program is for peaceful means.

A spokesman for Ban said last week the secretary general decided to attend to hold bilateral talks with Iranian officials on topics from its nuclear program to Syria.

Baird countered that Ban would have the opportunity to speak with Iran and other the world leaders when the UN general assembly opens in mid-September.

- with files from Reuters

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