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U.N. chief, in Iran, defends Israel's right to exist

August 30, 2012 |  5:51 am

TEHRAN -- The United Nations' top official defended Israel's right to exist and deplored Holocaust denial in remarks Thursday at a summit hosted by Iran, Israel's archenemy.

"Claiming that another U.N. member state, Israel, does not have the right to exist, or describing it in racist terms, is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told assembled delegates of the so-called nonaligned nations.

Last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an annual anti-Israel protest in Iran that the "Zionist regime" was a "cancerous tumor" that will soon be excised -- remarks that drew strong Western condemnation.

The Iranian president has also frequently questioned the Holocaust, the Nazi extermination of more than 6 million European Jews. In his speech Thursday, the U.N. chief categorically rejected Holocaust denial, a movement largely associated with certain Western academics and neo-Nazis but also endorsed by some in the Muslim world.

"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 his speech.

The U.N. chief's comments come a day after he voiced concern about the state of human rights in Iran, a theocracy where political dissidents face severe restrictions.

Also on Thursday, Ban said that the rebellion in Syria "started with peaceful demonstrations that were met by ruthless force."

The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close ally of Iran, blames the uprising on foreign-backed "terrorists."

Israeli and U.S. officials were chagrined at Ban's decision to attend the Tehran gathering of more than 100 nations. But the U.N. chief does not appear to have hesitated to voice opinions likely to rankle his Iranian hosts.

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-- Ramin Mostaghim

Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.

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