Iran could use U.N. talks as cover to build bomb, Ban Ki-moon says

February 14, 2013

The United Nations must be decisive and swift in judging whether diplomacy can resolve world concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday, or invite the risk that Iran, like North Korea, will use talks as a cover to build a bomb.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Ban said he wants to accelerate diplomatic talks with Iran and give them new urgency. World powers will hold another meeting with Iran later this month, the latest in a series of thus-far ineffective efforts to resolve questions about the scope and intent of Iran’s nuclear development.

“We should not give much more time to the Iranians, and we should not waste time,” Ban said. “We have seen what happened with the DPRK.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name for North Korea, exploded a third nuclear test device this week. The North exploited a decade of fitful diplomatic efforts to make progress toward a weapon.

“It ended up that they [were] secretly, quietly, without any obligations, without any pressure, making progress,” Ban said.

The U.N. Security Council must “show a firm, decisive and effective, quick response,” Ban said, that makes plain to Iran that the rest of the world is not convinced that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

Ban said he told Iran’s supreme leader and president last year that he is not satisfied with their assurances that the program is peaceful. He traveled to Tehran over objections from the United States and other nations that his presence could reward the clerical regime.

In the interview, ahead of a meeting with new Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Ban sounded frustrated by the slow pace and lack of results from the latest round of international talks with Iran. The U.N.-backed envoy, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton, has already signaled low expectations for the Feb. 26 session in the Kazakh capital of Almaty.

Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, The Post reported Thursday, a sign that the country may be planning an expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to a weapon.

Iran also has taken recent steps to ease Western fears, chiefly by converting a portion of its uranium stockpile into a metal form that cannot be easily used for weapons. A forthcoming report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog is expected to document Iran’s dual moves.

Kerry, who met with Ban and Ashton on Thursday, said the talks can progress only if the Iranians are ready to “make and discuss real offers and engage in a real dialogue.”

The United States and the five other international negotiators have made only slight tweaks to a proposal that Tehran rejected in June. That plan called on Iran to freeze some of its most worrisome nuclear activities in exchange for a promise of future relief from economic sanctions. Iran has demanded that Western governments formally recognize its right to make enriched uranium for commercial nuclear power plants.

The United States says Iran could assemble a weapon as soon as next year if it chose to do so. A shrinking of Iran’s timeline for obtaining a weapons capability could increase pressure on Israel to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“We are not going to get trapped into a delay-after-delay process here,” Kerry said. “It is incumbent on the Iranians to prove that they are prepared to meet our willingness, President Obama’s willingness, again and again stated by the president, to be open to a diplomatic resolution here.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said earlier this month that Tehran was prepared to talk directly with Washington. But he said Iran needed assurances that “the other side this time comes with authentic intentions . . . to resolve the issue.”

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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