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UN chief denounces Iran to its face over calls to destroy Israel

Vahid Salemi/AP

Damaged cars that three Iranian scientists - Masoud Ali Mohammadi, right, Majid Shahriari, center, and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan -- were riding in when they were killed in bombings over the last three years are displayed Sunday outside a conference hall hosting the meeting of Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, Iran.

United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced Iran in its own capital Thursday for calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust.

Ban’s decision to attend the summit in Tehran of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM, has been criticized by the United States and Israel, but he used the opportunity to slam the Iranian regime, albeit without mentioning it by name.

Iran hopes the high-profile event will prove that Western efforts to isolate it and punish it economically for its disputed nuclear program have failed. The West fears it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

The remains of three wrecked cars -- in which three Iranian nuclear scientists were traveling when they were assassinated -- were on display outside the summit venue. A photo exhibition called “Iran, the Victim of Terrorism” and subtitled: “More than 17,000 Terror Victims! For What Crime?” was being held nearby, The Financial Times newspaper (operates behind a paywall) reported.

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But fears of Iranian aggression toward Israel have been stoked by hostile language from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and this month called Israel a "cancerous tumor.”

In his speech, Ban took Iran to task.

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“I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust," he said, according to Reuters.

"Claiming that Israel does not have the right to exist or describing it in racist terms is not only wrong, but undermines the very principle we all have pledged to uphold," he added.

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Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli expert at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, said that Ban deserved credit for his blunt remarks in Tehran and said that Israel should thank him for speaking out so clearly.

"In the history of the Islamic Republic, nobody has challenged the supreme leader's (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's) position on Israel in front of him, and in such a manner,” he told Reuters. “This is likely to have long-term reverberations and consequences inside Iran's halls of power."

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However, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Ban would have conveyed a stronger message by boycotting the NAM summit.

"His going there harmed the message and really sabotaged the efforts, which are so critical today, to stop the illegal Iranian nuclear activity," Ayalon told Israel Radio.

America's 'bullying manner'
In his speech, Khamenei criticized the U.N. Security Council as a tool used by the United States "to impose its bullying manner on the world."

"They (Americans) talk of human rights when what they mean is Western interests. They talk of democracy when what they have is military intervention in other countries," he declared.

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On Wednesday, Ban urged Khamenei to prove that Iran's nuclear work is peaceful.

"Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none," Khamenei told the conference Thursday, although his words will likely do little to allay Western suspicions.

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A report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog this week is likely to voice concern about the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran, to which its inspectors have been denied access.

The International Atomic Energy Agency believes Iran has conducted nuclear-related explosives tests at Parchin. Western diplomats say satellite images suggest Iran has cleansed the site, which it says is a conventional military facility.

The IAEA's new quarterly report will say Iran has installed more than 300 new uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Fordow underground site since May, Vienna-based diplomats say.

Iran is using Fordow to enrich uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, taking it much nearer the 90 percent needed for bombs. Tehran says the material is for a medical research reactor.

"There is reason to be concerned by increased tempo of enrichment, the larger stockpile of enriched uranium and, most importantly, the additional centrifuges installed in the deeply buried facility at Fordow," said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think-tank. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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