TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s triumphal stewardship of the Nonaligned Movement summit meeting here veered off script on Thursday when the two most prominently featured guest speakers, President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, denounced the repression of the armed uprising in Syria, a close Iranian ally.
Syria’s foreign minister walked out in protest at Morsi’s remarks at the meeting, the largest international conference in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iranian leaders have portrayed the meeting, attended by delegations from 120 countries, as a validation of Iran’s importance in the world and a rejection of Western attempts to ostracize it.
Ban added further embarrassment to the Iranian hosts by publicly upbraiding them in his speech for threatening to annihilate Israel and for describing the Holocaust as a politically motivated myth.
“I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust,” Ban said.
In what appeared to signal Iran’s effort to avoid public friction over the Syrian conflict that would detract from the tone of the Nonaligned conference, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, opened the day with a welcoming speech that conspicuously avoided any mention of Syria. But the subsequent speeches by Morsi and Ban refocused attention on it.
Morsi, Egypt’s new Islamist president, whose decision to accept Iran’s invitation to attend the meeting was considered a major victory by the Iranians, likened the uprising in Syria to the revolutions that swept away longtime leaders in North Africa like Morsi’s own predecessor in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.
“The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” Morsi said, suggesting that all parties at the gathering shared responsibility for the bloodshed. “We must all be fully aware that this will not stop unless we act.”
Morsi, pointedly, did not mention unrest in Bahrain, possibly to avoid offending Saudi Arabia, which has helped Bahrain’s monarchy suppress the uprising.
With the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sitting beside him, Morsi delivered a stinging rebuke of President Bashar Assad of Syria, whom Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have staunchly defended throughout the conflict.
“Our solidarity with the children of beloved Syria against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is a moral duty as much as a political and strategic necessity that stems from our belief in a coming future for the free proud Syria,” Morsi said.
“And we must all offer our complete, undiminished support for the struggle for freedom and justice in Syria, and to translate our sympathy into a clear political vision that supports peaceful transition to a democratic government,” he said.