The United Nations secretary-general says the global community must act quickly to peacefully end disputes over nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Kofi Annan made the comments after meeting South Korea's foreign minister to discuss a host of global issues.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said nuclear weapons were at the top of his agenda Monday in his meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. The two met in Seoul on the second day of Annan's three-day visit to South Korea.
Annan says attempts to deal with nuclear weapons proliferation have become more complicated, because the international community's attention is now divided. Whereas North Korea was once the U.N.'s main focus, he says, now negotiators must also contend with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"And the international community has to take very urgent steps to deal with these issues before we have a cascade of proliferation of nuclear weapons," Annan said.
Pyongyang says it has nuclear bombs and is making more, in violation of its past pledges not to develop such weapons. Iran has a uranium enrichment program, which many nations, including the United States, fear may be used to make nuclear bombs, although Tehran says the program is for electricity generation.
Foreign Minister Ban says he reiterated to Annan South Korea's "zero-tolerance" policy toward nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, and Seoul's commitment to resolve the situation through dialogue.
South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia have tried to persuade North Korea for four years to end its nuclear programs in exchange for economic, security, and diplomatic benefits.
Pyongyang says it will not return to talks until Washington ends sanctions imposed on North Korean enterprises that the U.S. believes engage in money laundering and counterfeiting.
Annan says he believes counterfeiting and other matters should be dealt with after the nuclear issue has been resolved.
"In terms of priority the nuclear issue is by far the most important and should be given a separate category and priority as compared with human rights and other activities," he said.
Annan also called for continued dialogue to resolve a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan. He gave what might be interpreted as a subtle nod to South Korea's contention that Japan has not done enough to honestly assess its imperial past in the 20th century.
"One has to be truthful to history," said Annan. "One has to capture truthfully what has happened in the past. Because the essence of history is not just to put on record what happens, but also to learn from it."
The South Korean foreign minister said he and Annan discussed the challenge of reforming the United Nations - and he reminded journalists that he is a candidate to assume the top U.N. job when Annan retires later this year.
Ban says the U.N. secretary-general must be someone who can build consensus on matters such as international security and public health. He says he believes his career of high-level diplomatic service has prepared him to carry out the top U.N. job capably.