Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he told the Iranians that the U.N. nuclear chief said a package of incentives from six key Western powers that is now on the table if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment is a good one and they should negotiate on it.
Mr. Ban held talks last Friday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said he had “much more candid discussions” Tuesday with Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
With Iran scheduled to meet Thursday in Geneva with the six key Western nations -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- the secretary-general said he told Mr. Mottaki “to make progress” in negotiations on his country’s nuclear programme.
The Geneva meeting comes days after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, confirmed that Iran sent a letter on Sept. 21 disclosing that it was building a new uranium enrichment facility.
Mr. Ahmadinejad said Friday his country has complied with requirements to inform the IAEA six months before a new enrichment facility becomes operational, and was giving 18 months notice. But the IAEA says Iran is obligated to give notice that it plans to build such facilities as soon as that decision is made.
Following the IAEA’s disclosure of the new facility, Ban expressed “grave concern” about Iran’s continued uranium enrichment, as did the leaders of the United States, Britain and France.
According to Iran’s U.N. Mission, Mr. Ahmadinejad in turn expressed “grave concern” during his meeting with Ban that “instead of waiting for the IAEA, as the competent body, to reflect on ... the new enrichment facility, the U.N. chief had “chosen to repeat the same allegations that (a) few Western powers are making.”
The secretary-general told a news conference Tuesday that he responded to Ahmadinejad’s criticism by telling the president that the newly disclosed facility violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. Ban said he urged him to be transparent and open all nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, but the U.S. and its allies believe Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
“I made it quite clear that when they argue that their nuclear facilities are genuinely for peaceful purposes the burden of proof is on their side,” Mr. Ban said.
Iran has agreed to allow the IAEA to inspect the new facility. At the news conference Tuesday, Ban was asked why he didn’t wait for the U.N. nuclear agency to issue its report, as Ahmadinejad said.
“To be transparent and credible, when you have such an intent to build facilities, they should have informed --- notified the IAEA long time before, not just before everything would be completed,” Mr. Ban replied.
“That’s what I’m raising. So there is a question of transparency. That is why the world leaders have expressed their deep concern and that is why I have also expressed my concern,” he said.
Later, at a round-table luncheon hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Ban called the Iranian nuclear issue “very serious, even dangerous.”
He said he told Mr. Mottaki he was “troubled that Iran is criticized,” in the same manner as North Korea, and offered U.N. help for the country “to find some proper place in the international community.”
But to achieve this, he said, Iran has to prove it is completely transparent and gives the IAEA full access to its nuclear facilities.
“I said, have you informed the IAEA when you had the blueprint (for the new facility)?” Mr. Ban said. “You have done it after you have finished ... construction, in a very remote mountainside underground. Then, it’s not true, complete transparency. That’s what I’m asking.”
The six powers have offered Iran two packages for suspending enrichment as a prelude to wide-ranging talks on its nuclear program, the first in 2006 and the second in 2008.
Ban said he asked IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei what he thought about the two packages.
“Dr. ElBaradei told me that the first package was not enough, he believed. The second package is something which is good and ... can be negotiated,” Mr. Ban said. “So I told the Iranians, I checked with the (IAEA) director—general. The first one you might not have been satisfied. I agree. The second package is a good one. You can negotiate it.”
The 2008 package of economic, technological and political incentives to Tehran offers to help Iran develop a peaceful nuclear energy programme and improve economic and diplomatic relations with the six countries and the European Union, on condition in suspends uranium enrichment.
Asked how Mottaki responded, Mr. Ban said, “he didn’t have much to say.”
“I don’t know how this negotiation will go,” the U.N. chief added.