Reuters - UN's Annan Rebuffs Iran Over Israel Remark


By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has canceled his forthcoming trip to Tehran after the Iranian president's call to "wipe Israel off the map," the United Nations said on Friday.

Annan had planned to visit the Iranian capital in mid-November during a swing through the Middle East beginning next week, presumably to talk about Iran's nuclear policy.

But since the trip was arranged, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew international condemnation for his remarks on October 26.

"The secretary-general and the Iranian government have mutually agreed that this is not an appropriate time for him to travel to Iran," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

"In light of the ongoing controversy, it would have been difficult to advance the agenda that he had wanted to discuss with the Iranian leadership," Dujarric said.

In Tehran, a Foreign Ministry source contended it was Iran, not Annan, who wanted the trip rescheduled "to a more appropriate time in the future," the official Iranian news agency Irna reported.

Iran said comments made by Annan on Thursday were "under the influence of American officials and were not interpreted well in Tehran."

Annan, who had previously rebuked the Iranian president, told reporters on Thursday that "no one in the international community defended what the Iranian president said and the Security Council itself issued a statement." He was answering questions on why he had not called off the trip.

Separate condemnations had been issued by the European Union, the United States, Russia, Canada and other nations.

The news of Annan's change of plans was first disclosed by California Rep. Tom Lantos, a long-time friend of the secretary-general and his wife, Nane, and the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

Lantos, who had urged Annan to cancel the visit, praised him "for postponing a trip to Iran in the wake of outrageous comments made late last week by the Iranian president."

Annan plans to visit President Jacques Chirac in Paris on Monday and then go on to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Pakistan, Dujarric said. In Tunisia, he will attend a world summit on the Information Society.

The Iranian president first threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" to a conservative student conference in Tehran on October 26, at which time he also said that Islamic nations "will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland."

After international protests, Ahmadinejad reconfirmed his remarks and his foreign ministry announced it was recalling more than 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats, who are perceived as moderates favoring better ties with the West.