UN chief`s bungled Iran invitation hurts his role

Ban Ki-moon made a rare effort at solo diplomacy when he invited Iran to join this week`s Syria peace talks, but it backfired.

PTI| Updated: Jan 23, 2014, 06:47 AM IST

United Nations: Ban Ki-moon made a rare effort at solo diplomacy when he invited Iran to join this week`s Syria peace talks, but it backfired, raising questions about the effectiveness of a UN secretary-general better known and often criticized for his reserved and scripted style.

No one has said publicly what was said during Ban`s intense weekend of negotiations with Iran`s foreign minister, but Ban`s spokesman, Farhan Haq, said the secretary-general had an "oral understanding" with Iran and believed that a "more concrete," written understanding would follow on the terms of its attendance at the peace talks.

Ban told reporters today, "Unfortunately, I was not able to get the firm confirmation from the Iranian government at the last minute."
Iran instead declared that it would attend only without preconditions. The whirlwind 24 hours ended up angering all sides, including the United States and Russia, and jeopardized the fragile talks when Syria`s opposition threatened to drop out.

On Monday, Ban withdrew the invitation.
"Certainly he was misled," a Security Council diplomat said. Though Ban`s office has said he kept the US and other key states informed throughout his talks with Iran, the blame has fallen on him.

The secretary-general`s bad week continued today when the tense talks began in Montreux, Switzerland. Ban repeatedly asked Syria`s foreign minister to step away from the podium when he exceeded his time limit.
"You live in New York. I live in Syria," Walid al-Moallem snapped, ignoring the UN chief`s appeal.

Well into his second five-year term as the world`s top diplomat, Ban has ended up looking "a bit naive," said Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on the United Nations.

"In this particular incident (with Iran), he miscalculated. But perhaps he miscalculated his powers of persuasion, which didn`t seem too strong to begin with," Patrick said.

Changing Iran`s stance "is beyond the power of any one individual who, as some wits have said, is more secretary and less general," he said.