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Intensified diplomacy on Iranian nuclear dispute

Annan calls for intensified diplomacy on Iranian nuclear dispute

On the fourth leg of an Asian trip today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the progress made by his Vietnamese hosts while calling for intensified efforts to reach a diplomatic solution on the Iranian nuclear dispute, indicating that the United States should talk directly with Iran and pledge not to seek the Government’s overthrow.

“It is important that Iran assures the world that its intentions are peaceful, and works with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to lift the cloud of uncertainty surrounding its nuclear project – whether it is seeking nuclear weapons or is only peaceful,” he told reporters in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.

“I think the best solution is a negotiated one and we should really intensify our diplomatic efforts to try and achieve that result,” he added of a reported diplomatic package the European negotiators are preparing.

Mr. Annan was specifically asked if he agreed IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei’s reported view that the US should engage or talk with Iran directly and also promise not to try and overthrow the Government in Iran.

“On the question of who sits at the table and the US, you know my own position, which I’ve been stating privately and publicly to the Americans, and it does coincide with what you said ElBaradei said today,” he replied.

Asked about reports that Iran had asked him and others to mediate direct talks with the US, Mr. Annan replied: “As Secretary-General of the United Nations, my good offices are always available in situations where I can help. One or two other countries on issues like this always approach me and see if there is any initiative I can take, if there’s anything I can do to help resolve the issue satisfactorily.

“And once again, let me repeat, as Secretary-General, my good offices are always available on its nuclear programme,” he added.

Earlier this year, the IAEA referred the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme to the Security Council, which can impose sanctions, after Mr. ElBaradei repeatedly reported that although the Agency had not seen any diversion of material to nuclear weapons or other explosive devices, it was still not able to conclude that there were no undeclared nuclear materials or activities.

Iran says its activities are solely for energy purposes but the United States and other countries insist it is clandestinely seeking to produce nuclear weapons. Last August, Iran rescinded its voluntary suspension of nuclear fuel conversion, which can produce the enriched uranium necessary either for nuclear power generation or for nuclear weapons.

Earlier today, Mr. Annan visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where he and his wife, Nane Annan, took part in a wreath-laying ceremony. He then held a series of meetings with Viet Nam’s leaders, including President Tran Duc Luong, Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Communist Party Secretary-General Nong Duc Manh.

In between those meetings, he met with women leaders – achieving gender equality is a national goal in Viet Nam – and with the National Avian Influenza Steering Committee, as well as with UN staff.

“The dramatic decline in poverty over the last decade is an historic achievement. Viet Nam’s social indicators now compare favourably with countries that are much better off in terms of per-capita income,” he told reporters, praising the country’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of ills, such as extreme hunger and poverty, high infant and maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.

“For Viet Nam and the United Nations, the job will not be done until everyone enjoys freedom from hunger and deprivation, access to education, protection from infectious diseases and a healthy, safe environment,” he said, also praising the “impressive results” the country has achieved in fighting the current outbreak of bird flu.

“They have made remarkable progress and I hope the Government is ready to share its expertise and organizational strategy to combat the avian influenza with other countries and other regions working to contain the influenza,” he added.

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