United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Iran to move toward resuming negotiations with the West over its nuclear program and warned against escalation of the dispute. Annan made his comments on 13 February at the White House in Washington after a 45-minute meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush. The two leaders also discussed the Middle East peace process and the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.
WASHINGTON, 13 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Annan said Iran must change its public stance before the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, meets next month to decide whether to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
"I hope [that] between now and the time the atomic agency [IAEA] issues its next report, there will be indications and steps from the Iranian side to indicate that negotiations are not dead, and that both sides can come back to the table and find a way out of this crisis," Annan said. "We need to be able to work -- resolve it, and I hope there will be no steps taken to escalate the situation."
Threats From Tehran
Iran says its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating nuclear power, but the United States and Europe suspect it is a cover for an atomic weapons program. In the wake of the IAEA's decision to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, Iran vowed to resume uranium enrichment, and some reports indicate that procedure has begun, at least on a small scale.
Further, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his government is postponing talks with the Russian government on possibly defusing the issue by having Moscow take over enrichment efforts on Tehran's behalf.
Ahmadinejad says Iran may withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, altogether. He made that threat on 11 February at a rally in Tehran.
"The Islamic Republic's policy has been to follow its nuclear efforts in the framework of [the IAEA] and the NPT. However, if we find out they are going to take advantage of these regulations to destroy the rights of the Iranian people, you should know that the Iranian nation will reconsider its policy."
Optimism About Hamas
At the White House, Annan and Bush said they also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the January Palestinian election, in which the militant group Hamas won a majority of seats in parliament.
Bush said he hoped democracy and freedom would prevail in the region, but did not elaborate.
Annan expressed optimism that Hamas would move away from militancy and become a fully fledged political party along the lines of the four backers of the so-called "road map" for peace. The group, known as the Quartet, includes the European Union, the UN, Russia, and the United States.
"I think there is an opportunity here for Hamas to transform itself into a political party and work with the international community and the Israeli government," Annan said.
Peacekeeping In Darfur
Annan and Bush also said they agreed to work with other nations to help set up an adequate peacekeeping force in the Darfur region, in the African nation of Sudan, where tens of thousands of people have died and an estimated 2 million have been driven from their homes.
Annan has previously urged the United States to take a leading role in the Darfur peacekeeping mission, but today he said it is too early to plan specifics of the effort.
Many observers expected Annan and Bush to discuss the tide of worldwide Muslim anger over published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. But neither man mentioned the issue after their meeting.
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