Annan calls for urgent action on Iran nuclear plans
SEOUL, May 15 (Reuters) U N Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for urgent action on the Iranian nuclear crisis but said he was encouraged by diplomatic efforts to resolve the simmering dispute between Tehran and the West.
European Union foreign ministers meet today in Brussels to work out technical, trade and political sweeteners for Iran in exchange for allaying Western fears it is seeking to produce an atom bomb, notably by halting uranium enrichment.
Annan met South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and discussed ways to resolve the Iraninan crisis and also the North Korean nuclear standoff, both of which he said have the potential to escalate a spread of nuclear weapons.
''Today we also have Iran,'' Annan told a news conference after meeting Ban, a contender for his top UN job.
''The international community has to take very urgent steps to deal with these issues before we have a cascade of a proliferation of nuclear weapons,'' he said during a joint press conference with Ban.
Washington and its European allies have been seeking to pass a U N Security Council resolution that would oblige Iran to halt all uranium enrichment work or face possible sanctions.
Annan last week urged the United States to enter direct talks with Iran to ease a crisis over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, a plan which Washington has rejected.
He has been pushing for a diplomatic solution to avoid resorting to U N sanctions or even military action, a last-resort option Washington has not ruled out.
''I am encouraged by the intensified diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue peacefully and seek a negotiated settlement,'' Annan said.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, insists its nuclear plans are purely to make electricity and says it will not give up enrichment, a process which can be used to make fuel for power stations but also materials for nuclear weapons.
North Korea is also suspected of developing a nuclear weapons programme using uranium-enrichment technology on top of its main, plutonium-based programme.
Six-party talks between South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China aimed at ending the North's nuclear programmes have been deadlocked since the last meeting in November.
Ban is one of the few declared candidates to succeed Annan as secretary general. The two shared a light moment when Ban was asked for his thoughts on the role of the U N top diplomat.
''This one or the future one?'' Ban said.
REUTERS SHB BST1500