In the Cold War era, the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement used to be a stage for diplomatic rivalry between the two Koreas. South Korea, with observer status, often found itself at disadvantage with North Korea, a full member, in their competition to draw support from non-aligned states.
The three-yearly summit has been largely out of interest for South Korea since Seoul began to establish ties with former communist bloc countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But the event recently drew attention from officials and news media here with reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, would attend the latest summit that kicked off its six-day run in Tehran on Sunday.
The report on the North Korean ruler’s participation, which came from an Iranian news website early last week, soon proved incorrect as Pyongyang announced its ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam would travel to Tehran.
Ban’s decision to attend the summit over objections from the U.S. and Israel appears to have boosted the Iranian government, which has tried to use its hosting of the event to break through its international isolation.
The U.N. chief, who will arrive in Tehran on Wednesday for a three-day stay, has made the right decision to join the meeting to be attended by some 120 non-aligned nations. Though his visit carries sensitivity with Iran confronting the international community over its nuclear program, Ban would not have met his responsibility as head of the world body if he turned his back on the Non-Aligned Movement members.
His spokesman last week made it clear that Ban would use the occasion to convey the “clear concerns of the international community” with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and support for the repressive regime in Syria to leaders in Tehran. In that case, Iranian officials might find Ban’s attendance would put more pressure on them to be more cooperative in resolving international concerns. We hope Ban will have meaningful and fruitful talks with Iranian leaders to help settle the standoff between Tehran and Western nations.
Furthermore, a possible meeting between the U.N. chief and North Korea’s Kim Yong-nam could serve to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and prompt dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang. Ban, who has expressed his readiness to contribute to settling inter-Korean discord, is expected to face increasing calls to mediate between the two Koreas during the remainder of his second term in office.